Universal service

ARCEP delivers an update on the quality of the Orange telephone network, and calls on the Government to strengthen universal service specifications

L'Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques et des postes (Arcep) est chargée du contrôle du respect des obligations de service universel dans le secteur des télécoms. Dans ce cadre, l'Autorité a réalisé d'importants travaux depuis deux ans et souhaite en rendre compte en publiant un rapport ad hoc.

Paris, 25 April 2016

In France, the Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) is responsible for ensuring that universal telecom service obligations are met. The Authority has done a great deal of work on the matter over the past two years, and has decided to share this work with the public by publishing an ad hoc report.

The universal telephone service includes two components in particular: "connection" (i.e. access to the network) and a "telephone service" (i.e. calling). On 31 October 2013, Orange was designated by the Minister responsible for electronic communications to provide these services for a period of three years. The carrier is thus required to meet a set of specifications listed in the ministerial order, which include obligations to achieve results in terms of quality of service (QoS).

In 2014, ARCEP ascertained that certain universal service QoS indicators reported by Orange for 2013 fell short of the objectives set by the specifications. Added to which, performances further deteriorated in Q1 2014, which would have seemed to indicate that Orange was struggling to meet its annual targets. On 27 May 2014, the ARCEP body responsible for settling disputes, legal proceedings and investigations therefore decided to initiate an administrative inquiry into Orange.

Orange later introduced an action plan in response. In its report, ARCEP details the observations made by its departments in recent months. They reveal that quality of service indicators are back up to a satisfactory level, such that the body responsible for settling disputes and ARCEP decided to bring the administrative inquiry to a close.

The Authority nevertheless believes that greater attention needs to be paid to the quality of the universal service. At a time when superfast network rollouts are accelerating, the universal service continues to provide a fundamental safety net to users who will not be able to benefit immediately from the latest technological advancements, particularly in the country's most sparsely populated areas. It is vital that stringent demands on quality of service levels be enforced, not least to avoid a repeated decrease in QoS levels. For ARCEP, this recommendation is entirely in keeping with the strategic roadmap it published on 19 January of this year, and with the top priority being given to ensuring connectivity in the regions.

Establishing clear specifications for universal service providers is therefore crucial, as it is during this stage that public powers define the parameters of the universal service. By taking a goal-oriented approach rather than a means-centric one, the specifications will provide more relevant guidelines for the universal service, in a way that will benefit its users.

The Government is currently gearing up for the designation in 2016 of the entity or entities that will be responsible for providing the universal service starting in 2017. ARCEP has contributed to this work by making several suggestions in its report, including introducing more detailed indicators, strengthening incentive mechanisms and ensuring more careful and more reliable monitoring of the quality of service being provided.

Members of Parliament and local officials have consulted frequently with ARCEP in recent months on the quality of the telephone network. The report should shed light on this issue which is being addressed as part of the review of the Digital Republic bill, which contains provisions on this topic.