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The Government’s role and responsibility in VHB deployment

The Government’s role and responsibility in VHB deployment

INTERVIEW with Antoine Darodes – Director of the "Agence du Numérique" – French Government

Launched in 2013, France’s "Plan France Très Haut Débit" high speed broadband program aims to provide totally nationwide VHSB Internet
access by 2022.

This strategic and ambitious national program has a budget of €20 billion over ten years, including €3.3 billion of public funds. The players are both private and public: operators, local authorities and the State. Responsibility for the steering and implementation of VHSB deployment  is delegated to the recently-created "Agence du Numérique" that will also work to harmonize technical offers and tariffs. The agency assures strong yet flexible management to adapt to evolutions. By working closely will all the stakeholders, it has already  succeeded in tripling France’s fiberoptic broadband coverage – in just three years!

In practice, how did you impose your management of this project?

Our high-speed broadband mission was created at the Government’s initiative in 2013. Our approach is necessarily pragmatic, since running a project of such vast scale obviously takes time. Success will require strict yet flexible supervision. While at all times remembering the Government’s ambition, we must make allowance for private operators’ preoccupations and the constraints imposed on local authorities.

It was important for us to build a flexible working framework enabling all parties to do their job; our governance system aims to ensure the
durability and operational efficiency of the new networks. Our goal has been to define, as objectively and transparently as possible, a baseline of recommendations and good practices to ensure deployment consistency across the country. Thanks to our actions, we have doubled our national VHSB coverage in three years, notably in large built-up areas. Coverage has substantially improved in small communities too, and in rural areas Public Initiative Networks are really taking off.

Have you met any difficulties?

There have obviously been obstacles to overcome: technological evolutions, reforms of local government management, deals between operators, not least the SFR-Numericable merger. We had to remain flexible to assure stability and to reassure. To guarantee the success and the durability of the VHSB plan, we adapted to each situation while respecting the defined framework.

I might add that our VHSB team always keeps in mind its mission statement: it’s not our job to supervise everything permanently. We make sure that everything is running smoothly and then hand over to the players once all issues have been resolved.

What would be your advice for countries wishing to launch their own plans?

To make the plan work, consensual political backing is essential. VHSB deployment is a societal project and a collective responsibility which
from the very start must federate all interested parties: private and public operators, private enterprise, training organizations, the regulator (ARCEP in France), and so on.

The government can support the launch by financing certain projects, but it must encourage private financing to take over by guaranteeing a return on investment for all participants.

A fiber deployment takes time. It requires firm but flexible governance to adapt to changes in the national or local context.

Fiber must be promoted as an accelerator of growth not just for businesses and operators but above all for territories. Superfast connectivity
is incontestably compelling for families and enterprises alike, and therefore a generator of revenues for territories. To draw maximum benefit from VHSB, even before rolling out the fiber we should be thinking seriously about the usages and public services we can offer the population and later make sure that these services are widely appropriated.

Finally, I might mention that we have formed a specialist VHSB team which is ready to share our experience and good practices with other countries.