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Orange and Free link for 100% broadband

Telecoms giants team up to offer high-speed fibre broadband coverage for northwestern department

Residents and businesses in Mayenne are to be the first to have 100% high-speed fibre broadband coverage across the department as a result of an unlikely partnership between telecoms rivals Orange and Free.

The departmental council had put out a contract to supply FttH fibre broadband in its rural areas and Orange and Free stepped up with a deal for Orange to lay the cable and other infrastructure while Free shares access and costs.

First cables will be laid in Mayenne town and Craon in about a year and all 300,000 residents in the department will have FttH access by 2021.

The deal will give users the choice of two operators with others likely to join in future. It is also a financial success for the council as the original offer was for a €179million contract and the new cost will be €142m, with just 20% (about €29m) coming from public funds.

Orange has won other similar rural contracts in Brittany and Auvergne and both Orange boss Stéphane Richard and Free boss Xavier Niel hope they can duplicate the partnership and present more joint projects.

It came as Territorial Cohesion Minister Jacques Mézard spelled out demands for all telecoms operators to step up their broadband deployment to meet President Macron’s campaign promise to ensure no part of France was left behind.

Despite a €20billion budget set out by the previous government, telecoms operators had failed to agree on how the deployment should be done, slowing down the pace.

The government has now announced a new calendar for action with ‘good speeds for all’ by 2020, ‘very high-speed internet for all’ by 2022 and ‘fibre broadband for all’ by 2025.

The telecoms watchdog Arcep says that a mixture of new fibre, already-laid ADSL and a new form of 4G mobile access will supply part of what is needed but operators needed to start making it better.

Part of the drive for Orange and Free to join up was pressure from SFR which promised 100% fibre across France without government aid. Arcep said it would welcome departments working with SFR rather than paying out for a public project.

However, SFR’s move came as it was announced it had lost 750,000 mobile and internet customers in 2016.

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