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FT's FTTH Crawl

12:15 PM -- Is it any wonder Europe is lagging Asia/Pacific and North America in fiber access broadband deployments when a major carrier that's been banging the FTTH drum for years still has only a handful of customers and is just reigniting its investment in the technology?

Yes, Orange (NYSE: FTE), we're talking about vous!

Basically, Europe's not doing too well in providing its residents with very-high-speed broadband, with countries like France and Spain failing to live up to expectations, and the UK hardly started. (See FTTH Europe: Reality Sinks In and FTTH Fever Hits Europe.)

But that's not because the national operators just couldn't give a hoot (or a zut!). For example, France Telecom, along with its domestic rivals, has been hampered by regulatory issues for the past few years, so its aspiration to have 180,000 FTTH customers by the end of 2008, as set out in early 2007, turned out to be wishful thinking. (See FT Fleshes Out FTTH .)

Then, even though the French carriers appeared to have agreed on some ground rules by the end of 2008, it was only recently that France Telecom felt the regulatory landscape was clear enough for it to start committing to FTTH rollouts again. (See FT Plans €2B FTTH Spend and French Do Deal on FTTH.)

So the green light is on, but there's a lot of ground to make up.

Buried in the mass of detail that comprises its first-quarter 2010 earnings report were details of France Telecom's current FTTH status. (See France Telecom Reports Q1.)

At the end of March this year, the operator had 37,000 FTTH customers, while a further 38,000 customers had signed up for the service but were not yet connected. In total, France Telecom has what it calls "managed agent agreements" to hook up buildings that would give it access to just over 560,000 households with its FTTH product.

And included in its 2010 capex plans is its commitment to FTTH in France –- €100 million (US$132.4 million), to start during the second half of the year. That's only 5 percent of the total the carrier has pledged to spend by the end of 2015. And why wait to ramp up the investment if the environment is positive again?

As France Telecom is no longer hampered by a regulatory barrier, a more aggressive near-term plan should surely be in order.

If this is an example of Europe's commitment to a fiber-based broadband future, the region is likely to be always lagging behind APAC and North America, and that could have implications for industrial growth and competitiveness.

— Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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