French mayors call for faster high-speed Internet roll-out

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This article is part of our special report Broadband: driving recovery?.

According to a new survey, the mayors of rural France overwhelmingly want very high-speed Internet coverage made available to their towns long before the French government's current plans would allow. EURACTIV France reports.

The poll, which was commissioned by the French Association of Rural Mayors, found that the overwhelming majority of 2,000 respondents wanted their towns to have access to very high-speed Internet within five years.

This contradicts the French government's current plans to expand access to very high-speed Internet, which would cover only 70% of households by 2020 – and all of them by 2025 (see 'Background').

The association said in a statement that it "would like the calendar for the coverage of the territory by high-speed to be accelerated" and called for funding to be increased to serve that purpose.

"These subjects relate to essential stakes for the future of the communes. Like the arrival of electricity or the telephone in the last century," it adds.

The spread of Internet access inevitably poses the question of financing. In making the case for greater public and private investment in expanding very high-speed Internet coverage, the association was keen to emphasise that economic development was the reason most commonly cited by mayors for wanting access.

Indeed, the mayors polled overwhelmingly highlighted the importance of the contribution made by information and communication technologies (ICTs) in creating new companies and increasing rural employment. The next most-often cited benefits of coverage were boosting tourism and easing administrative paperwork.

The majority of those surveyed agreed that the cost must be borne for the most part by the state and private operators, although 48% would also accept a contribution from their commune.

Based on reporting by EurActif.fr

The European Union has made the expansion of Internet use and broadband coverage integral parts of its 2020 strategy for economic growth, by mandating that member states establish national programmes for these goals.

In terms of high-speed Internet (30 Megabits per second), the EU aims to have coverage for all citizens by 2020.

Last April, the French government presented new measures in the implementation of its national programme for the spread of very high-speed Internet access (100 Mbps) in particular. It includes €2 billion in expenditure and commitments by private operators to cover over 3,400 villages and cities, or 57% of French households.

In July the French government launched an initiative to finance fibre optic cables to the tune of €900 million, including financial participation in rural areas. This would still only cover a part of the territory.

In this slow penetration of fibre optics, France is not an exception. In 2009, only 1% of the European territory had access, according to figures published by the European Commission, compared to 12% in Japan and 15% in South Korea.

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