Soriano report: Mapping of a mandate in the service of operators’ investment

While Sébastien Soriano’s tenure at the head of Arcep will end at the beginning of January, the current president of the Authority drew up a final map at the beginning of the week on the social network LinkedIn, as a testimony on his last five years spent at the helm of the telecoms gendarme. A way for the Polytechnician to go back on a mandate devoted to the stimulation of investments in the telecoms sector, through a detailed document which speaks volumes about its attraction for data, set up as a central pillar of its strategy of regulation.

Irony of fate: it is after having multiplied the mapping tools to make the telecoms market evolve towards greater transparency and efficiency that the senior official has just been appointed at the helm of the National Institute of Information Geographic and Forestry (IGN) – at the origin of the famous maps of the same name – where his mission will be to manage the opening of the institution’s data.

A mission worthy of the one who has had to arbitrate – with more or less success – many burning issues within Arcep in recent years. And if all was not rosy and some of these projects, such as the opening of the Enterprise market, the extinction and the switchover of copper or the completeness of fixed and mobile networks, are still relevant at the end of his mandate, it is certainly the “pro-investment” regulatory policy that must be remembered from the passage of the successor of Jean-Ludovic Silicani in rue Gerty-Archimède.

Figures that speak for themselves

After taking up a long-awaited post in 2015, the current president of Arcep quickly oriented his regulatory strategy around a strong idea: to encourage operators to put their hands in the portfolio to invest in their infrastructure. To do this, the future director general of IGN has certainly used the gendarme’s baton a few times, but he has mainly used the carrot to push the operators to the expense.

Race results: these same operators invested 10.4 billion euros in their fixed and mobile infrastructures in 2019 and today account for 1.8% of investments made nationally. This is a significant development, while their investments in 2015 amounted to 7.8 billion euros. And enough to make the boss of Arcep smile, for whom it is a “figure without equal in Europe and in the OECD, corresponding to a unique mobilization on the part of telecom operators and their teams for equip France with competitive infrastructures ”.

Good figures which owe a lot to an openly “pro-investment” policy, which finds its most concrete example in the New Mobile Deal negotiated in 2018 by the authorities and the regulator with the operators to boost the territory’s mobile coverage.

Boost the territory’s mobile coverage

The principle is simple: it involves reallocating free of charge certain frequency bands operated on the operators’ 2G, 3G and 4G networks in exchange for investment obligations on their shares.

Despite a mixed reception, this “frequencies against investments” operation continues to be carried by the president of Arcep, who nevertheless defends it with supporting figures. “When I started my mandate at Arcep in 2015, France was 26e out of 28 in the European ranking of 4G coverage. We are now between the 13e and the 10e place according to the criteria, ”argued the president of Arcep in the columns of the Parisian last November, to justify the merits of this agreement.

And to recall that if the operators had committed to accelerate the coverage of the territory in 4G by the end of 2020, their respective coverage rates now stand on average at 96% of the whole population and 76 % of the territory (against 45% in January 2018). Three years after the signing of this contract, it is clear that it has made it possible to maintain, or even increase, the investments of operators, who in 2019 spent 2.6 billion euros in their mobile networks, a sum which should increase further in the years to come with the deployment of 5G networks.

Knowledge is a weapon

To push operators to inject new money into their infrastructures, the president of Arcep did not only resort to the frequency lever. A promoter of open data, Sébastien Soriano has also based his regulatory strategy on increased transparency and better information for the public, no longer placed in the role of helpless victim of operators but in the role of arbiter of the efforts made by these same operators.

And to see this increased transparency as a condition sine qua non for the emergence of “regulation by society for society”, as the head of the Authority indicated to the review Competitions last February. This conviction has materialized in various tools produced by Arcep to better reflect the action – or inaction – of operators. Like “My mobile network”, “Fiber card” and “My internet connection”, three platforms designed with the firm intention of “arming consumers in their choices and stimulating investments by operators”.

After providing new leverage to the general public, the regulator’s boss also relied on user engagement to get operators moving. How? ‘Or’ What ? By developing crowdsourcing tools such as “J’alerte l’Arcep” or “Wehe”. If the first now claims 90,000 reports, the Authority however quickly had to see the limits of this policy of rider alone, and turned to external actors such as nPerf, Qosi or consumer associations to improve feedback. field information.

The carrot … and the stick

“The intuition was as follows: there are many crowdsourcing tools, whether it is to measure your internet speed at home or to test mobile coverage. These tools often have a large audience and can form partnerships with consumer associations or the media to popularize the results of their tests. Arcep, little known to the general public, preferred to capitalize on this impact on the public rather than starting from zero, ”explains the Chairman of the Authority in his report, to justify this approach.

However, there is no question of leaving the hand to these actors alone. “We had to deal with a certain proliferation of applications, some of which were unreliable as to the representativeness of the measures or the results”, notes the latter, who then set up a code of conduct for these editors. specialized in measuring the quality of fixed or mobile networks. Without forgetting to put pressure on the operators, called on to implement an API in their boxes from 2022 to make the conditions of their connection more readable to consumers.

Sometimes pushed to crack down on operators, as in the burning issue of universal service, of which Orange is the universal delegatee, the president of Arcep will not have hesitated to play with the gendarme’s baton to move the lines. As evidenced by the formal notices sent to the universal operator, summoned to invest more in the repair of its aging copper network, or even the repeated warnings against the sub-contractors of the operators, designated responsible for “dishes. of noodles ”observed in many cabinets for pooling fixed networks.

The Kosc fiasco

Five years after the arrival of Sébastien Soriano at the helm of Arcep, it is therefore clear that the institution is doing well and that its notoriety has greatly benefited from the arrival at the helm of the polytechnician. This is evidenced by the expansion of the Authority’s portfolio, which is now responsible for supervising a complex issue: the distribution of the press.

Still, the boss of the telecoms gendarme has also experienced his share of difficulties, even failures, for example still not managing to embed the regulation of terminals in his portfolio, despite constant lobbying. While the departure of the president of Arcep should be effective at the beginning of January, he leaves many subjects on the table of his future successor, whose identity will probably not be known until early 2021.

Starting with its inability to further open up a corporate telecoms market, still outrageously dominated by Orange and SFR. If the regulator had pushed under the aegis of its president for the arrival of an alternative player with the birth of Kosc, it is clear that this initiative – criticized by many market players – quickly turned into a total fiasco, before the takeover of the wholesale operator by Altitude Infra in summer 2020.

A heritage to wear

The development of new competition, via alternative operators or new players such as Bouygues Telecom and Iliad, will therefore be one of the priority projects for the successor to Sébastien Soriano at the helm of Arcep, to improve business connectivity. which still cannot take off. The site is worth it, however: while only a quarter of French SMEs are now connected to optical fiber, the Authority estimated in 2018 the revenues of the corporate telecoms market at 8.9 billion euros. .

Another hot topic for the future president of Arcep: the extinction of the copper network, which will be replaced by fiber from 2023. A thorny issue that has often turned into a rat race between the Authority and Orange, the delegatee of this network, in recent months. Despite the promises and the means implemented by the incumbent operator to improve the quality of service on this aging network, the subject remains topical. The latest example to date this Sunday, with the signing of a forum by 216 rural elected officials, who confided that they feared being among the forgotten in the inevitable swing of copper during the coming years.

There will also be the issue of pooling fixed and mobile networks, which Arcep seeks to push forward by promoting framework agreements between operators, or that of stimulating the ecosystem of alternative operators, an issue in which much remains to be done. After the departure of Sébastien Soriano for IGN, it is now up to his future successor to carry out all these projects. And many others, which are sure to occur …

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