Consumer group UFC Que Choisir says Orange – which as the former France Télécom owns the whole landline network – had made its téléphone fixe service more expensive and less reliable by doing little to maintain the ageing copper cables (mostly installed in the 1970s) plus the 15million telephone poles and hundreds of thousands of street-side cabinets.
It says that in 2010 the percentage of faults per landline was just 0.49% and average repairs took 7.2 days but by 2014 faults had tripled to 1.48% and repairs were taking 9.11 days.
Industry watchdog Arcep stepped in to order Orange to restore service to at least 2010 levels but another consumer group, 60 Millions de Consommateurs, continued the attack, saying it was forgetting its old network while building the new one.
Orange strongly denies any lack of effort and says: “We invest every year in the copper network, not only for its maintenance but also in its modernisation where fibre optic cabling will not be available in the short term.”
It said Que Choisir’s claims “bore no relation to reality” and it was spending €500million a year on the copper cabling as it was vital to give rural customers the best mix of technologies (with ADSL continuing alongside fibre and by using more 4G coverage) to give high-speed internet.
“Over the past year five million extra people have been able to get 4G coverage in rural areas and this now covers 68% of the rural population.”
Last year 60 Millions said the number of faults repaired within 48 hours had risen to 86% from 77% in 2014. But Que Choisir said the network needed much more investment especially as many old people, especially those living in the country, had no mobile phone and were dependent on a landline for day-to-day contact.
It highlighted a study by the lifestyle research group Crédoc showing that 8% of adults in France had no mobile – and that soared to 55% in over-70s.
The study also said the landline network – which stretches into the most remote parts of the country thanks to investment decades ago – was the only way that many people were able to access the internet, via ADSL.
Since 2007 all exchanges have had a DSLAM network device (as a bare minimum) that allows ADSL internet connections to customers’ homes but the level of equipment and the speeds possible vary widely and several hundred thousand users in zones grises low-speed areas (less then 2Mbits/s) must find other options, such as more expensive satellite broadband. Tens of thousands do not even have this.
ADSL gives speed of up to 20Mbits/s while fibre is from 100-1,000Mbits/s and at the end of last year 22.3million subscribers depended on ADSL for haut débit internet. 5.4m were on très haut débit very high speed with fibre or fibre/coaxial cable, mostly through Numericable and SFR.
All 22.3m ADSL customers depend on the copper landline network.
Since 2013 France has had a high-speed internet plan to fit homes in densely urban areas with fibre (called Ftth or Fibre to the Home) by 2022 but it is feared to be 2030 or even 2045 before this reaches rural zones.
Councils in rural areas ought to set up public initiative networks but have fallen behind and Que Choisir says this is because there is little demand. Users are happy with ADSL and do not want to pay more for higher speeds – or the €300/metre cost of installing fibre cable overground.
Arcep is holding a widespread consultation on areas to be given “fibre zone” status to help speed the switch to optical fibre but has also said it is looking at “price-related” incentives.