11 April 2002
For over two years, Autorité de Régulation des Télécommunications (ART) has been working to encourage the development of alternative and complementary means of access to high speed, such as unbundling, cable, the wireless local loop (WLL) and satellite. This is one of ART's major goals.
The legal foundation of unbundling was established in late 2000. During the first half of 2001, through discussions with France Telecom and using its own resources, ART worked to establish the conditions which would allow effective start-up on the ground. It asked that operators initially begin to roll out on the basis of the version of the reference offer published last July. Then, last autumn, ART clearly stated the operational and pricing aspects of its offer had to be improved before spring 2002. This was necessary in order to permit unbundling to truly take off, beyond the overly limited geographical and professional segments it covers today (basically major corporations in a few major cities). We are now reaching the end of this process. Early last week, ART informed France Telecom of the modifications it considers necessary and which it is empowered to impose in accordance with the European regulation dated 18 December 2000.
· ART's goals
ART's goals are all based on the same principle: high-speed access must be developed on a competitive basis on every segment of the value chain. If the consumer is to truly benefit over the long term, all categories of players must operate on this chain under economically viable conditions. This means, in particular, that they must be able to cover their costs.
Indeed, while ART is obviously committed to ensuring consumers are offered high-speed services at increasingly attractive prices, it must also ensure that they have diversified offers among which to choose. This means that sacrificing competition to achieve an instant drop in prices which would destabilise most players on the chain would ultimately be to the detriment of consumers.
Clearly, it is both desirable and useful that the prices for France Telecom's services to Internet service providers (ISPs) be lowered, as long as this does not lead to the elimination of any possibility of competition on the part of other operators. As a result, France Telecom must provide other operators with significantly improved intermediate offers (option 3). It was with this goal in mind that in January, ART initiated in-depth discussions on the evolution of option 3. It is now preparing to present a summary of them.
On the whole, the development of high speed on a foundation that is both healthy and beneficial for consumers in the long run requires that we resolve a complex equation. ART is committed to quickly identifying the key parameters for this.
· The timetable
ART's decisions on unbundling will be published next Tuesday.
As concerns offers to ISPs, ART has been called upon in the approval procedure, to give its opinion on a France Telecom proposal, which currently covers only a small part of the value chain. It will continue its analysis with the aim of guaranteeing the goals mentioned above. This requires that it achieve a balance between the pricing and structural changes of France Telecom's offers: offers to ISPs and transport and collection services to other operators. ART has made the completion of this work its top priority for the next few weeks.