France tackles 'anarchic' home fiber installations with new bill

The French Senate has just adopted a bill that aims to eliminate home fiber installation 'malfunctions' that 'poison the daily life of many French people.'

Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

June 1, 2023

4 Min Read
France tackles 'anarchic' home fiber installations with new bill

About four years ago, I spent about six weeks without fiber access in my building because of a small fire in the main entrance area. Alarmingly, the fiber cable was not only situated right next to some rather dodgy electrical wiring, but also nestled alongside pipes bringing gas into the building. It seems we were lucky that we just had a fire rather than a massive explosion.

Meanwhile, a friend who lives in a more rural setting was without fiber for, he estimates, around 15 weeks in total last year because of what he describes as a "diversity of reasons." One of the most perplexing explanations offered up by one of the engineers sent to fix the problem was that the box serving his property could only handle about ten subscribers at a time, and each time a new subscriber was added, someone got thrown off. No one could be bothered to rectify or even clarify said issue for months, it seems.

Welcome to the wild west of home fiber installation in France.

Figure 1: The French Senate adopted a bill aiming to eliminate home fiber installation 'malfunctions.' (Source: Rupert Oberhauser/Alamy Stock Photo) The French Senate adopted a bill aiming to eliminate home fiber installation "malfunctions."
(Source: Rupert Oberhäuser/Alamy Stock Photo)

To be fair, France is far from the only country whose citizens suffer from appalling fiber installation tactics. Just talk to the people in the UK whose roads are dug up time and again by different fiber companies, when surely once should be enough. Some are unable to get anyone to attach a fiber cable from the main road to their home, while others have to put up with cables running along the road with no protection at all.

However, the issue is particularly pertinent in France right now for a couple of reasons. First, the country is actually doing a pretty good job of getting fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks built, as indicated by the latest report from Arcep.

According to the French regulator, total premises passed stood at 34.5 million by the end of 2022 and there were over 18 million fiber subscribers. Indeed, France is one of the leading European markets for FTTH deployments, ranked first in terms of homes passed as well as FTTH subscriber numbers in the latest FTTH Council Europe report.

The second reason is that despite its FTTH rollout prowess, actual installations in people's homes have at times been so bad that a bill aimed at improving the situation has just been adopted by France's Senate after the first reading.

According to a Senate press release, the bill or PPL will propose "concrete solutions" for home fiber installation "malfunctions" that "poison the daily life of many French people." These malfunctions include "anarchic cabling" for one, to which I can certainly attest.

The concern is that such désordres could threaten the very success of France's plan to install fiber for everyone (France Très Haut Débit), enabling it to switch off the old copper network by 2030. The Senate also noted that €35 billion (US$37.56 billion) has been spent on installing fiber since 2013 and believes it is now an imperative to close the gap between the FTTH deployment juggernaut and the experience of users.

Taking STOC

The bill on improving the quality of fiber connections was tabled in July 2022 by Patrick Chaize, a senator for Ain and president of French association Avicca. While the bill criticizes a practice called "STOC," which essentially allows operators such as Bouygues Telecom, Free, Orange and SFR to outsource technical home installations to sub-contractors, it wants to improve the model rather than replace it.

The aim is to provide a clear framework for the STOC model, with concrete measures such as imposing minimum quality requirements on sub-contractors and even establishing a one-stop shop to help resolve any issues that arise. Arcep would be given "appropriate levels of control," and the rights of subscribers would be strengthened in the event that they lose their fiber connection.

As commented by Chaize, the government and industry can no longer keep sticking their heads in the sand over this matter. "There is a gap between, on the one hand, the discourse held by the operators and the government and, on the other hand, feedback from the field. In recent days, many local authorities have expressed their strong support for this initiative of the Senate."

The next steps will involve further discussions with France's National Assembly, in the hope that the bill will eventually pass to a vote and become law.

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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About the Author(s)

Anne Morris

Contributing Editor, Light Reading

Anne Morris is a freelance journalist, editor and translator. She has been working in the telecommunications sector since 1996, when she joined the London-based team of Communications Week International as copy editor. Over the years she held the editor position at Total Telecom Online and Total Tele-com Magazine, eventually leaving to go freelance in 2010. Now living in France, she writes for a number of titles and also provides research work for analyst companies.

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