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ACHIEVING NATIONWIDE DIGITAL COVERAGE

Arcep publishes its opinion to the Senate: What conditions are required to meet the targets set by the France Très Haut Débit scheme? How to respond to SFR’s “fibrer la France” proposal? 

Paris, 26 October 2017

The Senate requested Arcep’s opinion at a time of pressing inquiry into connectivity targets for France, and the means required to achieve them.

Represented by its President, Mr Gérard Larcher, and Messrs Jean-Claude Lenoir and Patrick Chaize, the French Senate solicited Arcep in August for an assessment of the conditions for modernising electronic communications infrastructure, and achieving digital coverage nationwide. The Senate queried Arcep on the following issues in particular:
- the conditions required to achieve the targets set forth by the President of France (and notably the use of technological solutions to complement fibre);
- the feasibility, cost and consequences of SFR’s proposal to provide nationwide fibre coverage (“fibrer la France”);
- the roadmap employed up to now for network rollouts (notably those deployed on the initiative of local authorities);
- the impact that competition between operators has on these various developments.

The Senate’s request comes at a particularly crucial moment in time, marked by a dual set of circumstances: first, certain stakeholders questioning the soundness of the framework governing FttH network rollouts and, second, public authorities’ desire to step up the pace of broadband and superfast broadband coverage across the whole of France.

Arcep fully agrees that there is a pressing need to accelerate the pace of digital coverage in the regions, as much for the sake of consistency as competitiveness. It encourages regional digital development policies to be designed with fixed-mobile network convergence in mind.

Although initially queried by the Senate about the issue of national coverage for fixed networks, Arcep wants to stress the importance of mobile network coverage. Mobile networks have in fact become the main systems that people in France use to access the internet. The issue of mobile coverage must thus be addressed with that in mind. Arcep has suggested using the timetable for frequency reallocation as an opportunity to undertake a large-scale, strengthening set of reforms.

Regarding the objective of achieving “high standard broadband access” for all by 2020, Arcep invites policymakers to target technological solutions that will enable rapid responses without postponing the advent of future-proof solutions, and to focus on finding synergies with mobile network rollouts through the use of fixed 4G solutions.

Regarding the target set for superfast access, Arcep stresses the need for a substantial acceleration in the pace of optical fibre rollouts in those parts of the country where the Government has issued a call for investment letters of intent (called “zones AMII” in French), if those targets are to be met. Arcep suggests a pragmatic solution of a rapid redivision of these areas.

Arcep simulations indeed reveal that the current pace of Orange and SFR rollouts will not make it possible to achieve full coverage of these “zones AMII” by 2020, as the operators committed to do in 2011. To achieve that target, Orange will need to accelerate its quarterly rate of deployment by more than 60%, and SFR by more than 70%.
A redivision of the “zones AMII” between private operators wanting to invest in those areas, and attached to legally binding commitments, would make it possible to step up optical fibre rollouts, and meet the targets set for 2020.

SFR’s recent announcement that it would deliver fibre coverage across the whole of France – without government subsidies and, in some instances, creating redundant coverage to existing and ongoing rollouts – has gained Arcep’s full attention.

Following the call for investment letters of intent back in 2011, a division of roles between private operators and local authority initiatives was put into place. Projects were mounted, employing government financing to complete private operators’ rollout plans. The France Très Haut Débit superfast rollout scheme further confirmed the relevance of this combination of public and private initiative. For Arcep, challenging this balance would be detrimental to the rollout momentum, and to the predictability and trust needed to unlock investments. It would be contrary to an efficient management of public monies.
Conversely, Arcep welcomes the hypothesis of a region wanting to rely on the SFR deployment rather than subsidise a government project, on the dual condition that the operator make solid and binding commitments and – when applicable – that the operation be undertaken with the full agreement of the authorities in charge of pre-existing government-funded rollout projects that are part of the France Très Haut Débit superfast rollout scheme.

Arcep reaffirms the relevance of optical fibre network sharing, and of the France Très Haut Débit scheme, and has made two proposals for strengthening this model and discouraging inefficient duplications.

By encouraging efficient investment thanks to sharing schemes, the existing regulatory framework governing FttH networks remains the most relevant competition compromise between operators, for benefitting consumers and satisfying long-term economic and social requirements. In its opinion, Arcep sets forth two proposals for making this framework more incentivising:
- Create a stricter roadmap for pacing rollouts and achieving complete coverage, which must satisfy key nationwide digital coverage criteria. Arcep will hold a public consultation on a draft proposal to this end before the end of the year;
- Introduce the status of “digital development network” (réseau d’aménagement numérique) which guarantees access to scarce resources for an operator that has legally committed to providing complete coverage across a large section of the country.
In any event, Arcep will continue to work closely to ensure that the spirit and the principles of the regulatory framework governing optical fibre rollouts are upheld, and will work to prevent “non-virtuous” deployments that make no economic sense, and are thus detrimental to the regions and to end users.

Lastly, Arcep calls on public policymakers to ensure the technical and economic sturdiness of the networks deployed under public works contracts, which will undergird France’s digital society for decades to come.

Arcep also stresses the vital issue of co-investors’ desire to join these networks, which supposes the existence of access conditions that provide predictability over the long term.



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