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Orange given go-ahead to decommission copper telephone lines in France

It will save the company €500million a year, but concerns have been raised over the patchy fibre-optic roll-out in rural France

Around 20 million homes in France still have copper wire connections Pic: HJBC

State-controlled telephone company Orange has been cleared to start taking down copper wires in some communes from the end of 2024, with the whole country to be disconnected by 2030.

Orange must work with other providers

Initial plans to remove all copper phone wires were criticised by other operators, including SFR, Free and Bouygues Telecom, for being too slow and giving Orange a commercial advantage in the switch to fibre-optic cables.

Regulator Arcep asked Orange to respond and has now cleared the plan, with minor tweaks, to ensure that all operators are consulted on a commune-by-commune basis as the dismantling takes place. 

Read more: Customers unhappy with mobile and fibre after fast roll-out in France

Most copper connections are in rural France

Only communes fully connected to the fibre-optic network will be in the first wave of disconnections.

Around 20 million homes in France still have copper wire connections, used for fixed-line phones and ADSL internet and telephone.

Orange says that 70% of the population already has access to the more modern fibre-optic wires installed on telephone posts – but this figure skims over the fact that most of the 30% remaining live in a vast swathe of rural areas.

No money left to install fibre

Local authorities are charged with providing fibre-optic cable to rural communes but many have fallen a long way behind schedule.

Parts of south Charente, for example, which were first told they would be connected in 2017 and then that it would be by the end of 2021, have now been told there is no date for when they will be connected.

There is no money left from the department for fibre-optic to be rolled out. 

A target date of 2025 to cover the whole department was set in 2019.

Orange reassures communes with copper wires

An Orange spokesman told The Connexion that people who still have copper wires and no date for the installation of fibre-optic connections in their communes should not worry.

“Nothing will be done to cut the copper line until there are alternatives in place,” he said.

“In by far the majority of places, the alternative will be connections by fibre-optic cables, but in a few hard-to-reach areas we might have to pass via 4G or 5G mobile phone connections, which will be significantly faster than ADSL.”

Fibre-optic lines are better for the environment

Orange says that ending the copper wire telephone network in France will save the company €500million a year.

It claims fibre-optic equipment is more robust in stormy weather, even though in most areas it shares old telephone posts with copper wires.

In houses, fibre-optic connections provide a way of getting reliable television or film streaming services over the internet, which is not possible with ADSL lines.

Internet connections should also be much quicker and easier to use. There are environmental benefits too, says Orange. 

It claims internet connections using fibre-optic lines use less than 0.5 watts of electricity per line, while ADSL connections use 1.8 watts.

Orange criticised for poor maintenance of remaining wires

Opponents of moving to remove copper too quickly say it has big advantages in rural areas, especially as telephones connected to it continue to work in power cuts.

Fibre-optic phones have to be connected via boxes that need to be plugged into a household’s electricity system.

Last year, Orange, which had a legal responsibility to maintain the copper wire phone service until every house in France has an alternative, was heavily criticised by Arcep for letting it fall into disrepair.

Its legal obligation ended this year but the firm promises it will keep maintenance up until next year at least while alternative solutions are put in place.

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