French senator proposes law change to improve fibre optic rollout

The French state should be responsible for connecting homes to the fibre optic network, not private companies, says senator Patrick Chaize

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A senator’s proposal to change the law over how fibre optic cables are connected to homes has upset operators, but he told The Connexion that the present system is not working.

At the moment, local authorities are responsible for having the network of fibre optic cables deployed, with the aim of having every house in the country accessible from the network by 2025.

So far, only 70% of the country is covered.

Read more: Millions of French homes cannot access high-speed internet, says study

Once the network is set up, companies, led by the big four of Orange, SFR, Bouygues and Free, compete to make the final connections to the house, with, as a prize, the opportunity to lock households into using their ‘box’ modems, usually for a year.

In practice, very few households switch operators once they have a system that works.

Internet network should be managed like electricity grid

In the face of public anger at the number of breakdowns, senator Patrick Chaize, from Ain department, wants the law to change so connections to the internet network via fibre optic cables are similar to connections to the electricity grid or the gas network.

With electricity and gas, connections to households are controlled by state bodies, which are also responsible for the safety and standards of the connection.

“The problem is the operators are simply not geared for the number of connections – 15,000 a day – and so they subcontract, and their subcontractors also sub-contract,” Mr Chaize said.

“At the end of the line, you have a self-employed person, only paid a dozen euros once the connection to the new home is made, and they are often brutal in their work, cutting off three other connections to make the one they are paid for as quickly as possible.”

He said this problem has been discussed and operators had been asked to change things for three years now, and nothing has happened.

“The law is likely to pass the senate by unanimous consent,” said Mr Chaize.

“Once it gets to the national assembly, things might get complicated.

“I hope operators will come up with a coherent and financed plan to improve things, in which case the law will not be necessary.”

Incentive to improve

As an incentive, Mr Chaize’s law proposes that after five days without internet, subscribers no longer have to pay their subscriptions, and after 10 days the operators have to start paying a daily fine to their clients.

He said problems people with fibre optic connections were having, with the service slowing down during the evenings and on Wednesdays, when children are not at school, were not due to the network being under-engineered.

“For old ADSL connections, the problems were due to the system, but with fibre optic it must be due to system settings with individual operators.”

Several Connexion readers have reported speeds being worse after 18:00, especially in smaller villages.

In its 2022 annual report, telecoms regulator Arcep said the greatest number of complaints it received from the public were about the quality of fibre optic cable connections, especially people being cut off when new connections were made.

Arcep said it accepted that the proposed law was “because people are fed-up with the present situation,” but it thought changing the law was not the best way of improving matters.

Instead, Arcep said it believed operators will improve after signing an agreement to do so last September.

Operators warn that a law change would slow down the high-speed internet roll-out.

A recent report by consumer association UFC-Que Choisir found that 17.2% of households have access to high-speed internet only via wireless technology such as 4G or satellite, which is less reliable and more expensive.

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