In 2015, there were still 238 French communes without mobile phone coverage and 2,200 communes without access to 3G or 4G. In these areas, digital technology can help access many services and revitalize territories. In its report of January 2017, Terra Nova details the benefits that these campaigns could derive from it: Telemedicine, collaborative economy in the service of tourism (AirBnB, car-pooling), relocation of companies and people taking up telecommuting positions in the first place.
Government authorities are determined to deploy high speed broadband in these ‘white areas’.
Very High Speed Broadband Program very slow to roll out
Launched in 2013 and jointly piloted by Ministries of Economy and of Town and Country Planning, this plan has a funding of 20 billion euros (6 to 7 billion euros by telecom operators and 13 to 14 billion euros by French government). The objective is to provide all French households and businesses access to high speed broadband by 2022. In urban areas, telecom operators work to provide broadband connectivity. In rural areas, where significant work is needed to unbundle the service, public authorities (communes, communities in communes, department, region, State & Europe) and telecom operators jointly invest in public initiative projects.
However, in the beginning of 2017, the Court of Auditors raised an alarm indicating a probable delay of about 8 years in the full deployment of broadband networks. Added to this is an overrun of 12 billion euros due to poor apprehension of the global budgets. The Court foresees the coverage of entire French population by 2030 and with a revised budget of 30 billion euros.
As operators have already started the work in dense urban areas, 50% of connected households will get this service in time. The delay will be in rural areas which are already penalized by the lack of access to internet and/or 3G/4G networks.
How sustainable is the future of Very High Speed Broadband Program?
The progress of Very High Speed Broadband Program is hampered due to lacking local employment. Operators tend to concentrate in big cities, both in maintenance of networks and commercialization. New territories are disconnected from the digital world or seem to be in the process of disconnecting. Which economic models or services will bridge the spatial digital divide?
Which are the least favored areas in France when it comes to digital economy?
The Terra Nova and Google think tanks met the bosses of small and medium-sized businesses operating in remote areas with minimal digital services. These are 3,576 communes, representing 1.2 million inhabitants and less than 25% of the working population here works in urban areas. In these villages, public services are scarce or absent and due to lack of employers in these areas, young graduates have to move to the nearest big cities. Digital coverage (radio, phone and internet) is often low, which makes it almost impossible for anyone to jump on the bandwagon, whether they are individuals or businesses.