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France to invest €20bn in high-speed broadband for the entire country

French president François Hollande wants very high-speed broadband to reach every household in the country by 2023 - a plan that will need private as well as public investment.
Written by Valéry Marchive, Contributor

French president François Hollande has confirmed plans to give every single household in the country high-speed broadband within the next 10 years, with around half getting getting superfast coverage by the end of 2017.

"High-speed broadband strengthens [France's] businesses competitiveness and the quality of [its] public services. [It] will bring more fluidity, more simplicity for communications between business, their customers, and the public sector as well," Hollande said on Wednesday, adding the rollout could directly generate 10,000 jobs.

An investment in three parts

According to Hollande, achieving the government's goals will require a €20bn investment, although not all of it will come from the public purse.

High-speed broadband in densely populated areas is expected to require approximately €7bn, with telcos likely to bear the burden of funding it.

The same amount will be needed to provide coverage for less densely-populated areas, which will use public infrastructure deployed by local communities; however, how the cost for this part of the rollout will be divided between the public and private sectors has yet to be determined.

Finally, the remainder of the €20bn will go on high-speed broadband coverage in the lowest population density areas. Super-fast access here will be provided by the public sector alone using financing from local communities and the state.

In total, France will spend €200m per year over 10 years, with an ad hoc public body set up to coordinate the investments.

A more precise plan of how the project will be financed is likely to be unveiled at the beginning of March, after a government meeting devoted to the subject of France's digital economy. According to French newspaper La Tribune, part of the funding could come from a "very small" new tax on telecoms subscriptions, while the government can also use existing funding mechanisms, like Livret A, to offer long term loans to local communities at very low rates. 

While Hollande has not set out what speeds users could expect from the rollout, French telecoms regulator Arcep defines high-speed broadband as above 50Mbps download and 5Mbps upload speeds. Nor has the government prescribed what technologies will be used for the deployment: FTTH is likely to be the main contender, with others such as 4G filling in the gaps.

Seriously lagging behind

According to the FTTH Council Europe, France is seriously lagging behind when it comes to fibre.

In its latest ranking of European countries' FTTx household penetration, France appears in 18th position with less than five percent penetration, behind Sweden, Russia or Portugal.

The only good news for France in the ranking comes from the growth of the number of FTTH subscribers, with France and Portugal having contributed 30 percent of it during the second half of last year - a total of over 820,000 new subscribers.

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