Orange hits out at ARCEP chief criticism

Orange has reacted angrily to criticism levelled against it publicly by the president of French telecom regulator ARCEP over its deployment of fibre-to-the-premises networks.

Orange said in a statement that its board had met to discuss comments made by ARCEP president Sébastien Soriano about alleged deficiencies in its approach to deploying fibre networks.

Soriano told financial daily Les Echos in a recent interview that the job of rolling out fibre in the country had “only been half done” and pointed to the examples of Clermond-Ferrand and Lille, where fewer than 55% of homes had access to fibre. Soriano said that it was possible that Orange wanted to continue to sweat its copper network “a little longer than necessary”.

In a statement, Orange said that its board “finds the unfair and unfounded criticism incomprehensible and reasserts its confidence in the ambitious Engage 2025 strategic plan”.

The company said that fibre deployment is central to its strategy, that it  had carried out almost 70% of FTTH deployments in all regions of France and, despite the unprecedented health crisis, should deploy as many connections this year as in 2019.

In relation to its approach to the enterprise market, which was also the subject of criticism by Soriano, Orange said that it was “continually transforming to provide the best possible customer service and respect all obligations relating to the opening of its infrastructure”.

ARCEP is the midst of a review of regulation of the fixed access market following an initial consultation in February, after which it submitted proposals to the country’s competition watchdog, the Autorité de la Concurrence.

The telecom regulator has now initiated a second public consultation on its proposals, covering civil engineering, passive offers, active generalist offers and enterprise offers.

In a statement of its objectives, focusing on closure of the copper networks, the watchdog noted that Orange had yet to submit detailed plans and that it lacked a detailed calendar from the operator for the shutting down of the copper network. One of Soriano’s criticisms in his Les Echos interview was a suggestion that Orange seemed to want to sweat its copper infrastructure for a bit longer before putting fibre in the ground.

The regulator has also raised the prospect of a carrot for Orange in the shape of allowing it to adjust its charges for access to the fibre network upwards in exchange for a plan with guarantees and a more ambitious copper migration timeline.

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