The first annual plenary meeting of GRACO - the discussion forum between ARCEP, local authorities and operators - was held yesterday.

Paris, 29 September 2010

On 28 September 2010, the forum for discussions between ARCEP, local authorities and operators - known as GRACO (groupe d'échanges entre l'ARCEP, les collectivités territoriales et les opérateurs) - held its first annual plenary meeting on the topic of "the path to fixed and mobile ultra-fast broadband". Chaired by ARCEP, GRACO was created to provide a forum for discussions between local authorities and operators, the goal being to have private and public sector players work closely together in the preparation and implementation of the regulatory decisions that will affect them.

This event was attended by close to 250 people: representatives of the top national carriers, members of Parliament and local officials, representatives of regional authorities and the federal government.

Discussions were structured around two round tables, one on the topic of "the rollout framework for ultra-fast broadband and current state of progress" and the second on "initiatives and outlook for bridging the digital divide" which were chaired, respectively, by Daniel-Georges Courtois and Denis Rapone, both members of the ARCEP Executive Board.

In his introduction, ARCEP Chairman, Jean-Ludovic Silicani, provided an overview of the preparatory work that had been performed over the past year in tandem with local authorities and operators, in GRACO working groups and technical meetings, on the framework for fixed and mobile ultra-fast broadband access. Among the topics addressed were the regulatory framework for FTTH networks that would apply nationwide, and an operational framework for increasing access rates on the copper network - both of which are due to be finalised by the end of the year - along with setting the terms of the process for allocating spectrum for ultra high-speed mobile, which is due to be complete by summer 2011.

Jean-Ludovic Silicani underscored several points when wrapping up the discussions. Of particular note was the fact that there is now a consensus that ultra-fast broadband via optical fibre is a national priority, from both an economic and social perspective. This new network is the focus of high expectations across the country and, after kicking off in very high density areas, deployments are to get underway simultaneously in the remaining areas. The blueprints for digital regional development, which are unique in each region, must satisfy the need for consistency and clarity.

The work that lies ahead for GRACO is expected to focus in particular on implementing the regulatory framework governing FTTH network sharing, and especially the terms of shared investment and the dialogue that needs to take place between local authorities and operators when designing public-initiative networks. In addition, after a period of consultation, ARCEP is due to adopt a decision by the end of this year on the openness and accessibility standards that networks must meet to be eligible for financing from the digital regional development fund, in accordance with the "Pintat Act". This draft decision will be prepared following consultation with operators and local authorities. The operational implementation of the process for increasing access rates on existing networks will also require local authorities and operators to engage in discussions, while the matter of mobile coverage will be a regular topic of discussion, concerning both the technologies that have already been deployed and the rollout of ultra-high speed mobile access. Lastly, ARCEP is preparing a decision whose purpose is to define a common methodology to be used for the publication of operators' coverage maps, in application of the Decree of 12 February 2009 on "service coverage".

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