26 January 1999
Last month, the Minister of the Economy, Finance and Industry and the Secretary of State to Industry requested that ART initiate discussions with all concerned players in order to improve the pricing conditions for Internet access. The Prime Minister recently stated that it was necessary to reconcile a desirable price decrease and the respect for competition, which is necessary to protect consumers' freedom of choice.
On 26 January, the chairman and members of ART's board welcomed major concerned players: telecommunications operators, including France Telecom, Internet service providers (ISPs), industry, residential and professional users' associations, representatives of interested ministries and the Conseil de la concurrence.
Discussions and debates dealt with a comparison of the situation in France, Europe and in the United States, based on the behaviour and needs of users, on competition rules and on the ways to improve telecommunications prices for Internet access in France both in the short and medium term.
At the end of the day, Jean-Michel Hubert, ART chairman, highlighted the following points, which he felt had been well received throughout the discussions :
Ÿ Proposed pricing solutions will have to take into account the competitive situation of the French economy as compared to other European countries and the United States. They must also take into account the share of Internet in local calls, which is no longer marginal and which is growing rapidly. Finally, they will have to encourage the use of Internet, for economic, cultural and social ends.
The need to improve Internet access pricing in the short term does not mean that structural solutions favourable to users in the medium term no longer have to be sought: the development of competition on the local loop is essential for prices to be lowered, quality to be improved and the offer diversified.
In the short term, France Telecom will have to make pricing proposals in order to meet the need of as many surfers as possible: fixed charges granting a pre-determined number of hours of Internet access per month, which is modulated according to the day and time of day.
At the same time, in order to allow other operators to act on the market, interconnection tariffs, in particular those for the 0860 number range intended for Internet access, will have to be compatible with retail rates, in terms of both the hourly rate and the level.
In conclusion, ART's chairman asked that France Telecom submit proposals in accordance with these directions as quickly as possible. He also announced that he would call another meeting in order to evaluate the progress made or still to be made. He invited all those interested in attending to submit their contributions so that broadly-accepted solutions could be adopted.