Fixed networks: Rural elected officials fear being forgotten after copper goes out

In December 2019, the Orange staff presented its Engage 2025 strategic plan to an audience of decision-makers, which should carry it over the next few years. Among the flagship measures then announced by the incumbent operator included the shutdown of the copper network, the universal service for which Orange is the delegate. The operator chaired by Stéphane Richard – who has often been called to order by the authorities on meeting its commitments regarding its obligations on this point – intends to switch from copper to fiber from 2023. And to set the date of the extinction of the copper network in 2030.

A news that goes badly with some elected representatives of rural areas, who fear to be forgotten by the copper seesaw. In a forum addressed this Sunday to Sunday newspaper, these elected officials, numbering 216, criticize the lack of maintenance of the network, the fact “that the opening of a line takes more than six months, and the repair of weeks” while the operator is “supposed to intervene within 48 hours ”.

“While we, elected officials, we fight for the dynamism and attractiveness of our campaigns, we note that basic services such as simple access to a fixed line are not guaranteed”, deplore the signatories of this forum, who argue that “if these copper lines are to be replaced by fiber, we will not be able to do without them for at least another 10 years. Until then, we are cruelly dependent on it ”.

A new agreement awaited

The publication of this forum comes as the last agreement signed between the State and Orange concerning the delegation of universal service, signed on November 27, 2017 for a period of three years, recently expired. This delegation must now give way to a new agreement “which provides for access to broadband internet in addition to fixed telephony”.

An agreement that will be scrutinized very closely by the elected officials who signed this platform, for whom “only an unprecedented and immediate effort by the operator, coupled with the vigilant, reinforced and territorialized control of the public authorities, will improve the situation”. Elected officials have reason to worry about soon being among the forgotten people in the switch from copper to fiber, while their territories, which are less populated, are less attractive to very high speed network operators. This justifies the financial intervention of the authorities in public initiative networks (RIP).

Remember that if Orange is the last operator to still own 100% of its fiber optic network in rural areas, unlike its competitors, the incumbent recently announced that it could soon sell half of it, i.e. 4 million lines, valued at 1.8 to 2 billion euros. This is a way for the operator to earn cash to invest in new projects in a sector where margins are low and investments are massive.

Recurring dysfunctions

It is also not the first time that elected representatives of the territories point the finger at Orange’s flaws in the application of its mission as delegate of the universal service. In January 2019, the LREM deputy for Gard Olivier Gaillard lodged a complaint against the historical operator for “serious infringement and repeated and discriminatory breaches of the obligation to guarantee equal access to universal service”. The elected representative then denounced “recurring dysfunctions” which could go as far as “the total absence of service (fixed telephony and ADSL internet) in a prolonged manner”.

A few months earlier, Arcep had already given notice to the incumbent operator, calling on it to activate in 2019 and 2020 to respect the maximum values ​​set during the delegation of universal service. And to point the finger at bankruptcies on key points of Orange’s mission, such as the time taken to connect to the network, the maximum percentage of connection instances with a seniority of over 14 days, the maximum time to process 85% of subscriber disturbances, or even the maximum percentage of repair instances with more seniority.

In November 2018, elected officials from the Ardèche also banged their fists on the table to warn about the dysfunctions observed on the copper network in their region. Gathered around four deputies from the region, the mayors of local municipalities then threatened to refuse to pay Orange bills “as long as the operator does not do his job”.

500 million euros per year

However, Orange also has arguments to make as a pledge of its good faith. While Orange’s management of the quality of the copper network for which it is responsible as a universal service operator had been the subject of severe calls to order in October 2018, it rectified the situation. month, as Arcep noted last September. “The quality of service indicators have improved significantly and almost all of them have exceeded the annual objectives set by the Minister for 2019”, we applauded the side of the telecoms policeman.

And to note that 85% of the breakdowns identified in 2019 had been repaired in 46 hours (for a target set by the authorities at 48 hours), while this delay was of the order of 62 hours, observed in 2018. And if the health crisis has passed by there, making certain maintenance operations more difficult, the incumbent operator had undertaken to restore the quality of service on the fixed network in the second half of 2020. If it is not yet possible to know if these commitments made to the authorities have been kept, the operator’s management indicates that it takes its mission as the universal service operator very seriously.

Still, the switch from copper to fiber is eagerly awaited on the side of Orange, which invests no less than 500 million euros per year in the maintenance of this aging network. “Everyone must understand that we are not going to keep two fixed networks in France indefinitely: a fiber optic network with a local loop and a copper network”, also recalled the CEO of Orange, Stéphane Richard, at the end of 2019 .

The promoters of the switch from copper to fiber may have reasons for hope: Arcep has in fact just awarded the status of “fiber zone” to the first two territories, which have FttH networks throughout their territories. and can therefore consider a rapid transition to all-fiber.

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