France unveils digital economy plan

French Secretary of State for the Development of Digital Economy, Eric Besson, has introduced its plan called "France NumÈrique 2012" and that draws the lines to restore growth and modernize the country.

France, in order to answer the current economic crisis, has proposed no less than 154 measures, with the ìdigital economy [representing] a key factor of competitiveness in developed countriesî and that French investment in that sector is still only half of that in the USA.

This plan targets to give all French inhabitants access to broadband internet (just 54% today). One to two million people are excluded from that today, he said.

As of 2010, all French people will get the right to get a web broadband access for an affordable price of less than €35 each month. In schools, 400 cyberbases will be set up in the five next years, while already equipped classes will be modernized. Regarding television, Eric Besson confirmed the digital switch over for November 2011. The digital dividend will then be shared between radio, TV and broadband web access services, following a call for bids that will be launched in 2009.

About the fourth 3G mobile licence, in which alternative operator Free is very much interested, Eric Besson explained a new call for bids will be launched in the first four months of 2009. Competition criteria will benefit applicants, new entrants or current operators that will offer the best conditions to MVNO, he added.

Among other subjects discussed was the convergence between the telco and the content worlds. According to the Secretary of State: ìIt is essential that the French State as well as regulation bodies rethink, by 2012, the way they act to take this structuralised evolution into account.î Both regulators (CSA for TV and Arcep for telecoms) allocate frequencies for their own sectors independently from each other. Quoted by Besson, President Sarkozy thinks that the "splitting [of] an audiovisual sector and a digital one has become fully artificial". However, an action already engaged within the digital plan is to see the French competition authorities asking advice and questioning the exclusivity relationships between web access suppliers like Orange and content distributors and services.