Economy Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher’s decision to ask industry regulator Arcep to proceed comes against the background of attacks on supposed 5G masts and other installations by protesters who fear the technology. If the sale goes ahead as expected, the government’s base price of €2.17billion for the first 50MHz block of frequencies would allow the main operators – SFR, Bouygues, Orange and Free – to offer superfast mobile internet and allow the launch of connected objects.
The sale had been due in April but was delayed due to Covid-19. SFR and Bouygues feel there is no urgency for it now. SFR said the lockdown and the huge rise in internet usage had highlighted the gap between areas with good or poor internet coverage. It wants to push on with installation of fibre and extending 4G coverage in zones blanches. The government said it did not want French consumers to be left behind in the development of 5G services, and Ms Pannier-Runacher called 5G an “industrial priority”. The first blocks will be sold with obligations on operators to prioritise poorly served areas.
Attacks in protest
Ms Pannier-Runacher said the initial 50MHz was enough to give 830Mbps but operators could buy extra 10MHz blocks. Skype suggests a minimum of 1.2Mbps for HD video calls and 4Mbps for group calls. Meanwhile, leading telecoms companies in the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) have revealed the scale of the attacks on their sites in Europe, saying 142 installations in 10 countries were hit, 17 of them in France.
Installation crews have also been attacked and abused, even when working to maintain 2G, 3G and 4G sites vital for everyday communications and TV. The GSMA said there was “no evidence linking 5G and Covid-19, nor was there scientific evidence mobile phone technology has harmed the health of the general public”.
It said social media had been used to spread misinformation on 5G but this had caused real damage and “harassment of employees”. In France, sites in Isère, Gard, Jura, Loiret, Pas-de-Calais and Côtes-d’Armor have been targeted, with many set on fire with Molotov cocktails. The far left has been blamed for many attacks but some are also thought to be the work of unhappy neighbours and Covid conspiracy theorists.
Olivier Cahn, a specialist at Cergy-Pontoise university on radical groups, told Franceinfo that militants see telecoms systems as “the business of the future, of the creation of the neoliberal system, but also a means of surveillance and control of populations”.