France Unveils $27 Billion Broadband Plan

France sets out ambitious national plan to wire the country by
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France aims to deliver universal "superfast" fiber-based broadband across the nation inside of a decade. The cost: at least 20 billion euros ($27 billion). The catch: the country's recently elected left-of-center government can't foot the bill alone, and hopes local and international service operators will pitch in by licensing 4G and LTE spectrum.

"High-speed broadband will strengthen the competitiveness of our companies and the quality of our public services," declared President François Hollande in a speech last week. "It is an opportunity to preserve and develop employment."

The plan is for the state to put new cable in the ground in the country's extensive rural areas -- at least 24% of its 65 million citoyens live outside major cities -- and for it to ask local government and vendors to partner in medium-size cities and metropolises.

[ Some big U.K. projects might bring unexpected benefits. Read Why Build A New U.K. Railway? Better Broadband! ]

The plan is to cover the three areas of the country -- metropolitan, rural, and areas classed as intermediary -- in three phases of around 6 billion euros each. The money will come from, respectively, industry, local government and industry, and the French state. It is expected state government eventually will directly supply about half the total cost but precise ratios between partners is still being worked out.

The advantage of the new approach should be to make the kind of outlay needed to roll out broadband to less easily connected communities that much more attractive to industry if costs are shared.

If the scheme meets its deadlines, half of La République will be hooked up by the end of Hollande's first term, in 2017.

The plan's name, Ambition Numérique (Digital Ambition), seems well chosen: France so far has very little fast broadband outside its major cities. Its details, though, remain vague; there is no clarity as yet how much of the Ambition will deliver fiber to the street cabinets and how much will be fiber directly to homes (FTTC vs FTTP), nor if there are ambitions to include wireless options.

With this mixed state-industry approach, France seems to be following the example of the U.K., where similar ambitions of wide deployment of broadband depend on persuading industry to do most of the heavy lifting. The British equivalent of Hollande's Ambition -- Broadband Delivery U.K. -- has earmarked only £530 million ($801 million) of public funds to get broadband out to the boonies, however.

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