Arcep publishes its updated scorecard on operators' compliance with mobile network rollout obligations in sparsely populated areas

Paris, 20 September 2016

Ensuring mobile connectivity in the whole of France, and particularly in the country's more sparsely populated areas, is one of Arcep's top priorities, and reaffirmed during its recent strategic review as one of the four cornerstones of its actions. To this end, Arcep works to ensure that operators meet their 2G, 3G and 4G network rollout obligations, and today is publishing an updated scorecard on these rollouts.

All of the information, which is available as open data files, along with the interactive scorecard is available online at: Arcep will publish the next update in November 2016.

Rollouts are progressing, but need to accelerate

The scorecard provides an update on a series of obligations assigned to operators. These obligations were set out either in the government "town centre not-spots" programme or in the terms of operators' 4G frequency licences.

As concerns the "town centre not-spots" programme, thanks to a shared network and by means of public financing, operators are jointly required to provide basic coverage in a certain number of town centres which have been identified as being without coverage. This programme began back in 2003. Two hundred and sixty eight (268) town centres were added in 2016, brining the total number of town centres to be covered to close 3,800. They represent around 1% of the population of France:

- 91% of the town centres in the programme have voice and SMS service coverage. The vast majority (297) of the remaining town centres are waiting for public authorities to install a tower to ensure their coverage. However, in more than 15 other town centres that are part of the programme, rollouts by operators have been pending for several years. Operators - particularly SFR and Orange to a lesser degree - need to finalise their deployments as quickly as possible. Moreover, Arcep decided to impose penalties on these two operators for failing to meet programme deadlines (see below).

- High speed 3G coverage levels are improving: in nine months, they increased from 38% to 54% of town centres in the programme. Operators need to accelerate their rollouts so that their deployments are complete by 30 June 2017, in accordance with the law.

On the matter of 4G, the frequency licences issued to operators carry specific coverage obligations for France's sparsely populated zone, which is made up of more than 22,500 rural municipalities representing 18% of the country's population but 63% of its land mass. Operators that have a 4G licence in the 800 MHz band (Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR) are required to cover 40% of the population in this sparsely populated zone, using the 800 MHz band, by 17 January 2017.

Orange reports having virtually achieved its target. Bouygues Telecom and SFR, which are deploying a shared network in these areas, have made progress: now reporting that around 25% of the population in these areas are covered, compared to 15% three months earlier. Operators need to maintain their efforts, with a view to achieving the obligation set for January 2017.

Because it has no 800 MHz-band licence, Free Mobile is not subject to this same obligation. It is, however, required to provide 4G coverage to 50% of the population of this same zone, using the 700 MHz band, by 17 January 2022.

Town centre not-spot programme: penalties imposed on Orange and SFR

In July 2015, operators Bouygues Telecom, Orange and SFR were issued a formal notice to deploy 2G in 17, 8 and 53 town centres, respectively, by 1 January 2016. As announced on 19 May of this year, the Arcep body responsible for settling disputes, legal proceedings and investigations (referred to in French as "RDPI") sent a statement of objections to Orange and SFR, as they had failed to cover 5 and 47 town centres, respectively, by the 1 January 2016 deadline.

As a result, the "RDPI" forwarded the investigation file and the statements of objections to Arcep's Restricted body, which is responsible for deciding whether or not to impose sanctions.

At the end of an adversary proceeding, on 28 July the Restricted body decided to impose a €27,000 fine on Orange and a €380,000 fine on SFR for failing to meet the deadline set in their notices. In particular, the body took into account the parties' failure to meet obligations, the negative impact this failure has on digital development in the regions in question, and the efforts each operator has made in the meantime to cover all of the town centres at issue. The Restricted body decided to make its decisions public.

The Arcep body responsible for settling disputes continues to monitor the situation closely, and will track operators' rollouts carefully, whether as part of the town centre not-spot programme or as part of ongoing efforts to bring 4G coverage to France's sparsely populated areas.

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