French parliament set to vote on new Arcep president next week

Arcep, the regulatory body for France's telecoms industry, could get a new president next week depending on the outcome of a decision by the French parliament on Tuesday Jan. 13.

Sébastien Soriano is the preferred candidate of President François Hollande, who made his choice known on Dec. 23, 2014. The proposal will be put before the French Senate and National Assembly--the two chambers that make up the French parliament--on Jan. 13, reported Les Echos. The post of Arcep president has effectively been vacant since Jan. 3, when the mandate of former president Jean-Ludovic Silicani came to an end. According to French news service JDN, Soriano would take up the position on Jan. 28 if his selection is approved.

Soriano is reported by French media as being close to Fleur Pellerin, who is the former Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, Tourism Promotion and French overseas and now Minister of Culture and Communication in the government of Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Although several candidates were originally under consideration, Soriano is understood to have been a favourite from the start: he is a telecoms engineer, and also previously worked for Arcep between 2004 and 2009. He also has an existing relationship with France's telecoms operators: in 2012, he started to work with Pellerin when she was French Deputy Minister for Digital Affairs.

Les Echos further noted that he is also up to speed on competition matters--currently crucial for the sector--as he worked for three years at France's competition authority.

Should his selection win parliamentary approval, one of Soriano's first tasks will be to deal with government plans to open up the 700 MHz spectrum band for mobile broadband. In January, the Prime Minister published an order providing for the reallocation of the frequency band.

The office of the Prime Minister confirmed in December last year that frequencies in the 700 MHz band that are currently used by broadcasters would be allocated to mobile broadband providers via an auction in December 2015. Reuters reported at the time that the government is hoping to raise around €2 billion ($2.4 billion) through this "second digital dividend". Arcep launched a two-month public consultation on the matter on Dec. 16.

Network operators Orange, Numericable-SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Iliad are expected to take part in this year's auction. The four operators spent €936 million on 2.6 GHz licences for LTE services in 2011, while Orange, SFR and Bouygues Telecom spent a further €2.6 billion on 800 MHz licences in 2012.

For more:
- see this JDN article (in French)
- see this Les Echos article (in French)

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