400,000 low-income Parisians to get FTTH

Jean Louis Missika, a deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of technology, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the end of the “fiber war” among the four major operators in France (Iliad-Free, France Télécom, SFR and Numéricable). He brought them together the to sign a “charter of good conduct” whose aim is to install fiber optic networks in all social housing units in Paris. The fiber network will deliver up to 100 Mbps to about 400,000 people, or 20% of the city’s population. Missika is also expecting this agreement to be used as a template for agreements to install fiber in other Paris buildings.

France commercial fiber developments were on hold

For the last 2 years, most of the commercial fiber deployments to households in France have been put on hold after a law was passed requiring vertical installation of fiber in the buildings to be shared by all operators. The purpose of the law was to ensure that end users could easily switch from one operator to another and to prevent repetitive, wasteful installations in buildings. The law states that for each building of more than 12 apartments, a “building operator” should be selected by the “Syndic” (home owners’ association) to install and maintain the fiber in the building and make it open to all other operators. The installation is made at no cost to the owners of the building or apartments, meaning that the “building operator” has to bill the other operators willing to access the households.

GPON and P2P Ethernet in lengthy negotiations

A “fiber war” broke out because France Telecom and Iliad-Free, which are fierce competitors in the DSL market, picked two different infrastructure technologies. France Télécom is using GPON which is cheaper in the short term to install, whereas Iliad-Free is using Active Ethernet also called P2P Ethernet which offers symmetrical broadband speeds. Unable to agree on technical and financial issues, the operators decided to put all commercial development on hold. The “Syndics” stopped all negotiations with operators. Fiber deployments into buildings were frozen, but on the side, the operators were rushing to put fiber in the ground, especially in Paris where the sewer system allows them to avoid expensive civil engineering digs.

After long discussions and trials (driven by the French telecom regulator, ARCEP), the problem of “vertical fiber in the buildings” was solved by a complex set of dispositions, which have been blessed by the operators and submitted to the European Commission for final approval. They are supposed to be published by ARCEP as definitive rules for vertical fiber by the end of the year.

Paris is going ahead with social housing fiber

The Mayor of Paris wants the city to be the first major metropolitan area in the world to have fiber available to all residents by 2012, an important election date in France. Missika, who has drafted the “chart of good conduct” says:

“The horizontal deployment of fiber is going well in Paris. 1500 km of sewer are already full of fiber which reach the bottom of almost every building. The operators have been installing these fiber connections.”

Iliad-Free is already targeting 70% coverage of the city by the end of 2009 and 100% by the end of 2010. SFR mentioned 80% coverage. This overload of infrastructure is a cash cow for the city because every operator has to pay the city per meter of fiber installed in the sewers. “For the vertical part of the work, it is more difficult,” says Missika. “Now that the technical issues are cleared, we want to push fiber in social housing.”

Missika has asked four of the major social housing organizations, controlled by the city of Paris, to hold a meeting with the operators to agree on rules regarding the installation of vertical fiber in the buildings they own which provide cheap housing to almost 400,000 people.

No financial aspects in the Charter of Good Conduct

The agreement reached on the “Charter of Good Conduct” is based upon 8 to 10 rules of action which have not yet been disclosed. They apparently don’t deal with the financial or technical aspects of the vertical installation which was the major point of disagreement between operators. The charter deals only with operational issues, for example, response times after a commercial request, rules of access to the building, responsibility and insurance during the work, etc. The Mayor of Paris will propose at the next session of the City Council of Paris on December 14, to make the agreement he has worked on global and extend it to all public and private buildings in Paris.

At the Idate Digiworld Summit 2009 in Montpellier (France ) last month, Yves Parfait, head of France Télécom Fiber to The Home division commented the soon to be released ARCEP ruling. He declared: “The problem is solved from the technical point of view and we all agree, so we can go ahead now. Therefore, the operators have to go back to the discussion table regarding the cost of the in-building installation. The next point to discuss is how and at what cost the so-called “building operator” will rent its infrastructure to the others.” He added smiling: “It may take some more time, because no building is the same. Don’t expect a final agreement for at least 5 to 6 months, let’s say before mid-year 2010.”

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