Paris looks to neuter France's telecoms watchdog

A confidential report from the French ministry for industrial renewal recommends reducing the powers of the country's regulator in order to better align telecommunications policy with government strategy.

It looks like France's telecoms watchdog is to become a little more toothless in future.

According to French TV channel BFM Business, the government is seeking to reduce the remit of the country's communications regulator, Arcep.

BFM Business claims to have had access to a confidential report written by Arnaud Montebourg, the French minister for industrial renewal, and Fleur Pellerin, minister for the digital economy.  The report "diplomatically" recommends a "better balance" of power, BFM Business says: "the market and technology's evolution require a more prominent role for the government. Most stakeholders expressed their wish for stronger state levers and for limiting Arcep's role."

Several recent disputes between Arcep, the government, and mobile operators might be at the centre of the government's new thinking. The recent launch of mobile operator Free Mobile has often been presented as a threat to employment in the telecoms sector, as has (albeit to a lesser extent) the refarming of some 1800MHz spectrum for 4G which Arcep green-lit recently. According to the report, "many stakeholders underlined that the regulator's decisions suffer from a lack of assessment of their economic impact and of the market capacity to absorb new entrants". Moreover, "spectrum allocation has a structuring effect on the economy, which justifies the government's full responsibility". 

As the government has ambitious plans for broadband in France , the report claims that "Arcep hasn't yet succeeded in giving the [fibre broadband] market real momentum." Finally, the regulator is criticised for its "guaranteeing a high level of protection for consumers, sometimes at the expense of economic efficiency".

In the end, the report mainly suggest limiting Arcep's role to issuing "public notices" on government projects and to giving it a new goal of "industrial and employment development".

An Arcep spokesperson declined to comment a report as it has not officially been made public. On Twitter, Pellerin didn't deny the quotes made by BFM Business but stated that they "come from an internal draft and have no authoritative value".