ART's comments on France Telecom's "Département innovant" partnership

Paris, 9 April 2004

A number of chairmen of Conseil Général (General Council of the department) have requested that Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART) examine the "Département innovant" (Innovative Department) partnership proposed by France Telecom to the départements as part of its plan to accelerate the implementation of broadband in France.

The development of broadband in France to the benefit of all citizens is a priority shared by ART. As a consequence, ART approves any action taken to improve broadband coverage in France. The adoption of article L. 1425-1 of the Local Authority General Code, which provides a secure framework for the intervention of local authorities in the telecommunications sector, will also contribute to this objective.

Still, France Telecom's unusual position on the market has raised legitimate questions on the part of some local authorities on the legal aspects of the proposed partnership.

In an initial analysis, ART recalled the general principles of neutrality, openness and equality which are essential to minimise any potential legal risks arising from any particular documents and actions taken in the partnership. This is particularly important if the intervention of local authorities , aiming at reconciling development of digital technology and competition, results in procedures of invitation to tender.

In the event, it seems important to review the following principles in order to protect fair competition:

- information regarding demand, collected by the département, must be made available to all operators ;

- actions providing information on, and promoting, broadband are taken in a neutral manner and do not promote the services of a single operator or ISP ;

- financial assistance is granted in such a way that it is compatible with national and Community rules.