Arcep fines Orange and SFR over rural 2G coverage

Field Avendra

France’s telecoms regulator Arcep slapped fines on both Orange and SFR for failing to meet 2G coverage obligations in sparsely populated areas of the country.

The regulator said Orange and SFR had failed to cover five and 47 town centres respectively by a deadline of Jan. 1, 2016. It imposed a €27,000 ($30,000) fine on Orange and a €380,000 fine on SFR.

Bouygues Telecom appears to have met its commitment to deploy 2G in 17 town centres, compared to eight that were required for Orange and 53 for SFR.

This latest rebuke from Arcep comes as it pursues its goal of ensuring that the market’s four mobile network operators (MNOs) continue to improve 2G, 3G and 4G coverage across France, particularly in the country's more sparsely populated areas. The MNOs have been assigned a series of obligations under the terms of their 4G licences as well as under the government’s "town centre not-spots" programme, and Arcep is tracking their progress closely.

Its most recent scorecard indicates that while rollouts are progressing, the process needs to accelerate further. Some 268 town centres were added to the “town centre not-spots" programme in 2016, bringing the total number of town centres to be covered to close to 3,800. They represent around 1 per cent of the population of France.

Arcep noted that 91 per cent of these town centres now have 2G coverage, but 297 are still waiting for a tower to be installed. 3G coverage now stands at 54 per cent of town centres in the programme, but the regulator said operators needed to accelerate their rollouts so that their deployments are completed by June 30, 2017, in accordance with the law.

In terms of 4G, the frequency licences issued to operators carry specific coverage obligations for France's sparsely populated zone, which is made up of more than 22,500 rural municipalities representing 18 per cent of the country's population but 63 per cent of its land mass.

Operators that have a 4G licence in the 800 MHz band -- Orange, Bouygues Telecom and SFR -- are required to cover 40 per cent of the population in this sparsely populated zone using the 800 MHz band, by Jan. 17, 2017.

Free Mobile is not subject to this same obligation because it has no 800 MHz-band licence. However, it is required to provide 4G coverage to 50 per cent of the population in this zone using the 700 MHz band by Jan. 17, 2022.

For more:
- see this Arcep release

Related articles:
Arcep report shows continued slowdown in French mobile revenue decline in Q4 2015
Bouygues, Free first to win permits for 4G sites in France's 700 MHz band
SFR speeds 4G rollout as end to Bouygues roaming deal looms