[bbc] Critics of France Telecom’s dominance in its home market on Monday received a boost after the French telecoms regulator paved the way for the roll-out of super high-speed internet services on optical fibres.
Arcep, the telecoms watchdog, ruled that more than one fibre-optic line could be installed in buildings in densely populated areas, an option that had previously been strongly criticised by the former monopoly operator.
The ruling is a boost for rivals including Free, France’s second-largest provider of broadband services, which had argued that a single-fibre solution would reinforce France Telecom’s natural monopoly since it runs the old copper network.
France’s telecoms companies have already started investing heavily in fibre optics in Paris and other big cities. But the lack of regulatory framework meant they were in effect duplicating each other’s efforts. Xavier Niel, the entrepreneur who controls Free, said the equivalent of building “three parallel motorways” between Paris and Lyon was a rare stupidity.
Free argued that instead of a single-fibre network or several separate ones there should be one backbone but with multiple lines in buildings, which it said would guarantee that the incumbent operators could not distort competition.
Didier Lombard, France Telecom’s chief executive, had defended the “monofibre” model, saying alternatives could cost up to 40 per cent more but bring no benefit in terms of extra bandwidth.
Arcep said its framework would not force telecoms groups to operate multi-fibre networks but would allow them to choose to add additional lines where they wanted.
A law last year already prohibited the creation of local or building-bybuilding monopolies but there were precise arrangements of how infrastructure could be shared between operators.
Equipping the whole of France with fibre optics, which can provide internet access at up to 10 times normal broadband speed, will cost about €20bn ($27.7bn). Arcep’s ruling covers France’s 20 largest cities or about 5m households. The regulator said operators would have to share a single network for less densely populated areas while rural areas would either have to be equipped using government money or would have to settle for a super high-speed mobile service instead.
France Telecom hit by ruling