Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy said: "With these plans all French households and businesses will have access to high speed broadband by 2022. The plans also give more choice in suppliers. This is good news for citizens and for small and medium sized companies in France. Access to high speed broadband is also a key priority of our Digital Single Market strategy."
The French national broadband scheme "Plan Très Haut Débit" aims to connect all households and businesses to very high speed broadband by 2022. The scheme will fund local authorities' infrastructure projects, mainly to deploy Next Generation Access (NGA) networks. These are networks that ensure connection speeds of at least 30 megabits per second (Mbps).
The Commission's state aid assessment, based on the 2013 Broadband Guidelines, aims to ensure, amongst other things, that public funding does not take the place of private investment. It also ensures that other service providers can use the publicly funded infrastructure on a non-discriminatory basis. This protects effective competition, which is a key driver for investment and better prices and quality for consumers and businesses.
In this context the Commission found, for the subsidised NGA networks, that:
- In line with the Guidelines, public funding under the French broadband scheme is to be granted only for deployment in areas where no private investment is planned. More than 90% of the scheme's budget concerns investment for the roll-out of NGA networks to connect households and businesses in areas that currently lack a very high speed network.
- Aid will be given either through public tenders or through the so-called régie system (wholesale-only network infrastructures built and managed by public authorities, under certain conditions).
- The subsidised NGA network will offer full access to all operators on a non-discriminatory basis, while the access prices will be under the control of the French telecommunications regulator ARCEP.
Part of the measure concerns the modernisation and usage of the existing copper networks already operated by Orange, which will also result in improved speeds and access possibilities. Orange is required to provide full open wholesale access at tariffs established by ARCEP. This will enable Orange's competitors to effectively compete for customers at the retail level.
The scheme is accompanied by a detailed evaluation plan to assess its impact. The results of the evaluation will be submitted to the Commission by December 2022.
The "Plan Très haut debit" re-launches a previous schemethat was approved by the Commission in October 2011 and expired in December 2015. It includes several components:
1) construction of NGA networks to connect households and businesses
2) deployment of NGA backhaul networks
3) use of basic broadband networks in very remote and scarcely populated areas
4) modernisation of the copper network to increase available speeds.
Support for broadband rollout in under-served areas to ensure a high level of connectivity in the EU is a key priority for the Commission as part of its Digital Single Market strategy.
To enhance the current high-speed broadband coverage (at least 30 Mbps) (see Digital Economy and Society Index), France needs further investment in broadband infrastructure, in particular in rural areas, where deployment is more costly and often not profitable enough to be spontaneously triggered by the market. Where the market does not provide sufficient broadband coverage, or the access conditions are not adequate, public intervention may help to remedy such market failure.
The 2013 Broadband Guidelines, which entered into force on 26 January 2013 reconcile the aims of on the one hand spurring the rapid roll-out of broadband infrastructure with public funds and, on the other hand, minimising the risk of crowding out private investment and creating monopolies. They therefore complement other existing EU and Member States policies' in this regard.
The non-confidential version of the current decision will be made available under the case number SA.37183 in the State Aid Register on the DG Competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved. New publications of state aid decisions on the internet and in the Official Journal are listed in the State Aid Weekly e-News.