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Launched in 2013, the France Superfast Broadband Plan (Plan France très haut débit, PFTHD) has reached its objectives of giving the entire French population access to superfast connectivity with a mix of technologies ranging from fibre to satellite, while meeting the €13.3 billion package of public investments notified to the European Commission in 2016. Introducing fibre broadband has already been seen to play a significant role in improving territorial attractiveness, creating jobs and improving business performance. The success of this plan can be widely credited to the original governance structure between local authorities, national services and private operators.
The PFTHD faces up to the digital divide
77.6% : This is the percentage of French people living in areas without any fixed superfast broadband coverage in 2015, which put France in 26th place in Europe. By 2022, France had moved up to 12th place for SFB and cemented its position in the leading group for fibre connectivity in Europe.
Such was the context that prompted the government to launch the France Superfast Broadband Plan in 2013. The goal was to provide all French citizens with SFB connectivity, i.e. greater than 30 Mbps by 2022. How would this be achieved? By encouraging private investments to ensure nationwide coverage while providing for public funding in those areas where market shortages had been anticipated (public initiative areas).
Coverage targets achieved
By 2022, the PFTHD had achieved its objectives by providing superfast broadband coverage for 99% of premises across the country, with a technological mix ranging from wired solutions (fibre, ADSL and coaxial cable) to satellite, including radio technologies. By steadily giving greater focus to the FTTH architecture (fibre to the home) where technical conditions and economic viability allow, the Plan has helped ramp up the technology's roll-out: by the end of 2021, over 70% of premises were eligible for FTTH.
18.4 million : this is the number of superfast broadband subscribers (60%), including 14.5 million fibre subscribers by the end of 2021.
32% of companies were SFB subscribers in 2020 and 55% of them were connected to the fibre network in 2022, depending on the sector.
Inequalities in roll-out depending on the investment areas
94% of buildings are eligible for SFB, including 88% for FTTH (in 2021) in private investment areas, but the latest roll-out programmes are struggling to cross the finishing line, especially on the outskirts of certain major metropolitan areas.
Implementation in public initiative areas was slower out of the starting blocks. As a result, only 60% of premises have SFB access (as of Q4 2021) via wired technologies, and 51% of premises can be connected to FTTH. However, this figure is higher than the European average of 30% for fibre access in rural areas and, more importantly, it is growing rapidly. Based on the current roll-out rate in PIN areas (over five million outlets a year), fibre broadband should enter the mainstream by 2025.
Economic and social impacts of fibre on territories
Although the effects of fibre do exist, a period of at least three years is needed after roll-out until such effects are statistically identifiable. Since roll-outs are still recent or in progress, there is not enough hindsight to fully measure the effects today. Fibre deployment has significant comparative advantages when it comes to the environmental footprint, starting with its low energy consumption. Fibre networks used an average of 10 kWh per subscription in 2020, compared to 35 kWh for copper networks.
Effective success of the PFTHD
As regards the effectiveness and timeliness of the aid scheme, the financial commitments from the State and local authorities remained broadly consistent with the initial forecasts. Contractual arrangements between local authorities and private operators within the PINs have also been adapted to raise the project efficiency bar even higher. More generally, the original governance of the Plan, which is shared between the local authorities and governmental services, and tied into different forms of private partnerships, has injected a significant level of flexibility into the system. This is one of the keys to its success.