France this week unveiled a €100 billion post-Covid-19 stimulus plan that includes a quarter-of-a-billion-euro shot in the arm for rural fibre networks.
The government has committed to investing an additional €240 million in its Very High Speed France plan, first launched in 2013, with a view to accelerating the provision of fast broadband to difficult to reach areas.
The new investment proved necessary for a couple of reasons, the government said. Namely, because the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic downturn have left unfavourable conditions for investment in fibre, and because the lockdown period highlighted the fact that high-speed connectivity has become indispensable.
The move will help France reach its targets for broadband connectivity. The goal of the Very High Speed France plan was initially to roll out what the state described as “comfortable” speed broadband – 8 Mbps, that is – to all French premises by the end of this year, increasing to 30 Mbps by the end of 2022. Earlier this year it added a new objective: to roll out fibre to all premises by 2025.
The government will provide additional information for those eligible to receive funding for fibre rollout in the autumn, with aid to be allocated in 2021.
As it stands, France sits in the middle ground in Europe when it comes to fibre uptake.
The latest figures from the FTTH Council Europe/IDATE, published in April, show a penetration rate of 25.6% this time last year, including both fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB), putting France 16th in a ranking of the EU28. However, France topped the chart when it came to growth in homes passed, in absolute terms at least, adding 3.5 million premises over 12 months.
With initiatives like this latest fibre funding injection, France looks set to continue rising up the high-speed broadband rankings in the coming year and beyond.
That said, the impact of the lockdown in many European countries could well see fibre subscriptions rates soar – finances permitting – as more people seek to continue to work from home.
But whatever the competition from across the borders, France’s telcos have worked hard to roll out fibre in the past couple of years. Greater support for reaching those areas that are difficult to connect will only add to their efforts.
While Emmanuel Macron, who doubtless has half an eye on the presidential elections scheduled for 2022, waxes lyrical about the benefits of job creation, digital inclusion and so on that increased availability of high-speed broadband will bring, for telcos there’s a real bottom line benefit from increased fibre penetration and take-up.