The Australian parliament has passed legislation to enable the controversial privatisation of the national phone company Telstra.
The government has pledged to improve regional services
But the bill could still however fail to win approval in the Senate where the Liberal-led coalition government is in a minority.
The sale of the government's 50.1% stake in Telstra - which would be Australia's biggest ever privatisation - is expected to raise about A$35bn ($23bn; £14.5bn) .
Proponents of the sale say it would make the company more competitive, and remove the conflict between the government as regulator and owner.
But the opposition Labor party says a full privatisation would create an unregulated monopoly with little care for smaller regional areas.
Parliament passed the legislation on Thursday with 78 votes to 59, but the government still needs four extra votes in the Senate for the bill to win passage.
The government has said Telstra's sale would not proceed until market conditions were right and regional
telecommunication services nationwide are adequate.
"There have been huge improvements in communications in
country Australia. It's not perfect but there is a mile of
difference to what it was say 10 years ago," Prime Minister John Howard told ABC radio on Thursday.
The legislation is likely to come before the Senate by the end of the year.
The sale is also being seen by some as a political tactic designed to trigger a possible early election.
Under Australia's constitution, if the Senate rejects a bill twice it gives the government the option of calling an
early election - and it can then hold a joint sitting of both
houses of parliament to push through the disputed legislation.