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Orange France fined €26m for failures in superfast broadband rollout

The Local France
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Orange France fined €26m for failures in superfast broadband rollout
A box with fiber optics cables in an apartment building, in 2010 in Paris (Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP)

French regulatory authorities have announced a record fine for telecoms firm Orange over what they say are failures to meet commitments in rolling out superfast fibre optic broadband.

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The French telecommunications regulator, Arcep, announced in a press release on Wednesday that it would fine Orange €26 million for failing to "meet its commitments for the first deadline of its fibre optic rollout in 3,000 'amii' zones".

The rollout is part of the long-term plan to improve internet access in France, especially in rural areas, and get the whole country connected via the superfast fibre optic connections. 

"Amii" (appel à manifestation d'intention d'investissement) zones are medium-density areas that the French government designated as locations where private operators could freely come forward and commit their services to provide fibre. The goal was to save local authorities from having to subsidise works in these areas in order in order to distribute funds to other areas.

You can find a map of 'amii' zones here.

According to Le Monde, the fine represents a record penalty for Arcep. In response, Orange has contested the decision and announced plans to take up the matter with France's Conseil d'État.

The announcement of sanctions against Orange come shortly after the company reached an agreement with the French government to bring fibre to an additional 1.5 million new homes in France by 2025, which would increase fibre access in France from 88 percent of homes currently to 98.5 percent.

The French telecoms company undertook commitments at the start of 2018 to expand fibre optic coverage to medium-density areas, which at the time represented approximately 13 million homes and offices.

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Orange reportedly promised to connect 92 percent of the concerned homes by the end of 2020, and then finish connecting the remaining eight percent at the request of home-owners within six months, according to Le Monde.

However, Arcep has alleged that Orange did not meet the latter commitment, and that the eight percent of remaining buildings - representing about 543,000 homes - still had not been connected to fibre.

What is the status of the fibre rollout in France?

According to Ouest France, over 80 percent of French residences are eligible for fibre connection, but there has been a recent slowdown in fitting certain areas.

The regional French media reported that in the last year, an additional 4.1 million buildings across France have become eligible for fibre, which is a decrease (-18 percent) from the 5 million that became eligible the year earlier. 

According to Arcep, the vast majority of France is eligible and able to be connected to fibre, as shown in the map below. 

Screenshot from Arcep website

At the end of 2022 at least 18.1 million households - a little over a quarter of the population - were connected to the internet via fibre optics, according to Arcep.

Over 92 percent of the French population, as of 2022, had access to the internet in general, according to an Insee study.

However, a recent study by French consumers group, UFC- Que Choisir, found that nearly one in five French households still lacked "real" very high-speed internet connection as of 2023, and those most affected tend to be in rural areas.

READ MORE: One in five French households 'still lacking very high-speed internet'

In total, 11.8 million French consumers still could not access very high speed internet (speeds greater than 30 megabits per second), according to the report.

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In certain départements, like Ardeche, significant portions (60.9 percent and 53.5 percent respectively) of the population still lacked access to very high speed internet, as shown in the map below.

Screenshot from UFC-Que Choisir study

The French government has a target of "generalising" access to the internet via fibre by 2025. Meanwhile, the government intends to phase out the historic 'copper network' by 2030. 

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