Municipalities and open access critical to FTTH growth in France

At a meeting of the French Committee for Public Initiative Networks (Comité des Réseaux d’Initiative Publique or CRIP) in the restored Amphitheater of Le Jardin des Plantes in Paris, Paul Champsaur, President of ARCEP, the French regulator, said that municipal and regional governments will be at the forefront of deployments of very high-speed broadband infrastructure in France — for both fixed and wireless access.

“For the last four years, the CRIP has created the conditions for a constructive dialog between local communities and  operators,” Champsaur said. “It has been the instrument of cooperation, as the telecom and Internet segments are under pressure from significant technological changes. It has also helped in determining the key issues governing the next digital plan for France. The CRIP has been working to achieve two goals: bringing fixed and wireless high-speed access throughout France and creating a more competitive market for broadband services.”

France Telecom to share its fiber ducts with operators

Champsaur also announced that France Telecom will be publishing the tariffs and conditions for bulk leasing its fiber ducts to other operators. France Telecom’s move comes after months of long and difficult negotiations between the company and ARCEP. Initially, France Telecom refused to grant access to the underground fiber ducts that it had installed when it was a government-owned monopoly. Most of these ducts are not completely filled up with copper or fiber lines.  Allowing open access to the ducts will lower the costs for other operators and encourage them to roll out more fiber networks. In France civil engineering represents between 60% to 80% of the cost of a new fiber network. Champsaur mentioned that more will be done facilitate (below-ground) duct and fiber sharing in the buildings.

“Sharing the same fiber into the building will allow competitive offers to reach the end user,” he explained. “It is a very difficult issue because it involves the owner of the building, or the owners’ association, and the type and location of the building or house. It raises a lot of technical difficulties. ARCEP has consulted all parties involved and conducted a lengthy study to resolve most of the issues.”

Today, all the conditions, except for some minor points, are in place to permit an agreement on how to deploy the last-mile fiber to the user and to ensure that all operators have equal access. This will be made official by a formal agreement between operators, and then by law through a modification of “the code of telecommunication” in France. ARCEP will publish the details of the consultation and study within the next few days.

Champsaur added the local communities can now proceed with promoting FTTH and high speed broadband access on their territories. They can implement medium-term and long-term strategies, as well as plan for the deployment of a backbone network in the most cost effective manner. They can create rules that call for the installation of empty ducts when they have to dig trenches in the street for any reason. They will play a decisive role in FTTH deployments by attracting operators and offering them open access to the ducts. These will complement France Telecom’s offerings (to lease its ducts).

Recent law for modernization of the economy

In his speech, Champsaur gave an overview of the recent improvements put in place by the Law for Modernization of the Economy (LME) approved by the French Parliament this summer. The law makes it easier for local authorities to improve the communications infrastructure in their region by allowing them to gather data about existing networks. Operators are required to provide, free of charge to municipalities, information about the design of their existing networks. Operators will also be required to disclose all services they offer to end users, as well as their wholesale offerings, in a specific territory.  These requirements will take effect before the end of 2008. Champsaur noted that cable in France (Numericable) remains a major problem because of disputed franchises and ownership of cable networks in many municipalities. This issue has been addressed by the French Parliament. ARCEP has commissioned a study on the legal and economic aspects of the cable problem, to be released later this year.

ARCEP to study on the impact of community involvement

Champsaur concluded that the LME requires ARCEP to conduct and publish a global study to define and evaluate the effects of the intervention of the local authorities (municipalities, departments and regions) on the development of telecom and Internet infrastructures in France. Champsaur concluded: “By approving article L-1425 of the code of telecommunications four years ago, the Government has greatly enhanced the capacity of local authorities to participate in the deployment and management of telecom infrastructure and networks. We will conduct this study in cooperation with the operators, local authorities and the administration to measure the real impact of their actions over time. We will hold a seminar next November bringing together all those who have made a contribution to these developments, and publish the results by the end of the year, so that they may be reviewed by the French Parliament.”

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