Internet options for rural areas

No access to broadband? Satellite might be an option - and grants are available in some areas.

26 August 2010

No access to broadband? Satellite might be an option - and grants are available in some areas.

Some operators have signed up to offer packages under a government-backed scheme, Haut Débit pour Tous (broadband for everyone), aimed at filling the gaps in France’s coverage.

These must have minimum speeds (at least 512k/s) and cost no more than €35 a month, equipment included (but not installation) with a maximum 24-month commitment.

Sign-up costs cannot be over €100. See www.haut debitpourtous.telecom.gouv.fr

Can you get ADSL?

Do make sure that there is no possibility of ordinary ADSL broadband on your phone line - you might like to ask your mairie or departmental council if there are any plans to arrange for access soon.

One way to check availability is on the Eligibliité ADSL section here: www.shdnet.fr/offre

Who offers the packages?

Nordnet: www.nordnet.com
Tel: 0800 66 55 50
(free from landline)

Vivéole: www.viveole.fr
Tel: 0805 017 082
(free from landline)

SHD: www.shdnet.fr
Tel: 09 73 01 10 01
(local call cost)

A Nordnet spokesman said there were two main options. One is buying a satellite kit (including dish and modem) for €399 and paying for installation by an antenniste (from €159) and then paying monthly with no commitment, at €29.90. You can also install it yourself as they provide instructions and a DVD.

Alternatively they have a Haut Débit Pour Tous package at €34.90 where the equipment is included (but has to be returned if you cancel later on). There is a €50 sign-up fee for the package.

What grants are available?

In many areas, including the Mayenne, there are grants of up to around €500 towards equipment and/or installation. Requirements are that your area should not have access to ordinary ADSL broadband or (in some cases) WiMax (see below).

You need to write to your conseil général (departmental council) for them to agree a grant before signing up with your chosen firm. Your council will then reimburse your costs. If you opt for a package with equipment thrown in, you would only potentially get money to cover installation.

The firms’ websites have sections showing departments offering grants for their installations and, in some cases, ones where grants are under discussion (it would be worth checking in such a case to see if any agreements has been reached). For those areas of France which currently offer grants see the box top right.

What is WiMax?

It is like an enormous wireless transmitter, covering several miles (a village or set of villages). You pay to connect to it and receive fast internet. It is not available in all areas or from all companies.

Vivéole, for example, offer a package including equipment and installation. It differs from normal wireless internet which is for a single home or business and uses a transmitter linked to a phone line.

3G dongles

Using a 3G dongle is another alternative in some areas but can be expensive. It uses the same technology as mobile phones and is offered by the same firms. You attach a small modem to the computer via a USB port. It is typically used with laptops and netbooks.

Packages may include unlimited (within reason) use or limited free downloads with further use at a premium.

There are also pay-as-you-go options. The dongles cost around €30 but are free with some packages. This may be worth looking into especially if you only have a holiday home in France. If you also want to use it in the UK, some UK providers will allow you to use your dongle in France but this can be at an expensive rate.

Cheap broadband for the less well-off

At the start of the year the prime minister said he was encouraging operators to come up with special offers for the less well-off, at no more than €20 a month.

This is similar to the offers from other utility companies like EDF and GDF who have special rates for certain disadvantaged sectors of the community. France Télécom has a "social" tariff of €6.49 for a landline, for people on income support or the AAH disability allowance but nothing similar for internet.

There has been no take-up on cheap social broadband schemes, apart from cable operator Numéricable, whose €9.99 offer is limited to people who live in HLMs (social housing), have access to cable and are on income support.

A spokeswoman for the prime minister said they hoped offers would be put in place over the summer.

Broadband availability is a question of distance and modernisation
writes Commercial director of UK Telecom Bob Elliott

One big difference between France and the UK is that France’s population is far less concentrated and if you live in a rural area then the infrastructure that supports good broadband access may not be there.

The ability to receive broadband over your telephone depends on the speed at which data packets can be sent to you from your local exchange, known as an eligibility test. If the signal is too low and too fast the data packets get split up and the signal is corrupted and the connection is broken.

Two key things affect your access to broadband, firstly the length of the telephone line between your house and the local exchange. Generally anything more than 65-68dB (typically between 6-8 km) will mean that the signal will be too weak for the service.

Also linked to the strength of the signal is whether the line is direct or is made up of several lines joined together with each join reducing the speed. The second factor is the diameter of the copper telephone wire. Older wires had a larger diameter, meaning that the service could be provided over longer distances - up to 7 or 8 km.

However with the price of copper rapidly increasing over the years France Télécom moved to using smaller diameter cables.

As for alternatives, satellite (see below) is widely available and only requires a clear line of sight between the receiving dish you have to install and the satellite itself.

One other consideration is that this service is not compatible with VOIP (Voice over Inter-net Protocol) where calls can be made over the internet.

This is because upload and download links take longer to establish, making the service unsuitable for any real time services where instant action is required.

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