After a close-fought battle, the Australian Senate has passed legislation to split Telstra and clear the way for the government's NBN project.
The bill was cleared by a margin of 30-28 and will now be sent back to the lower house, where it is expected to be passed on Monday, paving the way for the government to separate Telstra's retail wing from the rest of the company and use its copper ducts and infrastructure.
In exchange, the state-owned NBN Co. will pay the operator A$14 billion (€10.2 billion) over 30 years.
The legislation was passed with the support of independent senators - including a last-minute deal with Nick Xenophon on Wednesday. Opposition attempts to force the government to submit a cost-benefit analysis of the project were voted down.
But the bill was modified with tighter controls on the planned eventual sale of the NBN operating company – a condition the minority Greens party stipulated in return for backing the vote.
The government and Telstra are now more likely to meet their self-imposed deadline of finalizing a proposal on separation that Telstra can take to shareholders by the middle of 2011.
Shareholder approval will clear the way for the “biggest telecommunications reform since full competition was introduced in 1997,” Ovum research director David Kennedy says.
The green light will only be possible if NBN achieves its goal of thrashing out a deal by December – a target Kennedy notes is “ambitious.”