What telephone and broadband options are available in France to second-home owners and those on a budget?
Even though you may only use your holiday home a few weeks each year you will still be obliged to pay the annual fixed charges for connection to public utility services, including those for telecoms.
No telecoms provider in France offers an broadband deal that you can suspend and reactivate for periods of occupation, although a service is available for a fixed telephone line.
It is possible to sign-up for a broadband service ‘sans engagement’, which would enable you to terminate the contract at will, but whether it is worth the bother of each year going through a new sign-up and termination process, including return of the router, is questionable.
Nevertheless, all of the operators have low-cost ADSL packages available that are likely to be adequate for holiday use, and which also often come with a promotional offer for the first year.
The operators also offer 4G broadband packages, which are likely to be of interest where the ADSL line is poor, but these packages are generally more expensive than ADSL. Neither are they universally available in all areas; as always with the internet, it depends on the location of the property.
In order to obtain access to the cheapest ADSL offers your property would need to be located in a zone dégroupée. That is to say, in those areas where the telecoms infrastructure has been ‘unbundled’ and no fixed charge for a line is payable to Orange Telecom, the former monopoly operator. Most of these zones are in urban locations.
In addition, although the service from Orange is available nationwide, the rural network of the other main operators (SFR, Bougues or Free) is not as strong, and the quality of the service they offer is generally inferior/more variable to Orange.
Those seeking to get on-line on a budget should avoid going through re-sellers, and stick to the four main ISPs.
Suitable current offers from these ISPs include:
- Red - The low-cost arm of Altice/SFR have a starter package at €20 a month, which also offers unlimited calls to fixed lines in France and many international locations. The modem is offered free of charge, but there is an activation charge of €49. They also have a 4G offer for €33 per month.
- Bougues Telecom - A basic package for €31 a month, with a promotional price of €23 for the first 12 months (€13 in zones dégroupée). The offer includes the router and unlimited calls to fixed lines in France and many international locations. There is an activation charge of €29 and a termination charge of €59. They also have a 4G offer that starts at €33 for the first year, rising to €43 thereafter.
- Free – This ambitious operator has the lowest offers on the market, but their network is also the weakest. Their basic offer in zones dégroupée starts at around €10 per month for the first 12 months, when it then costs €25. Their 4G offer is less developed, so not widely available.
- Orange - The opening ADSL offer from Orange starts from around €37 a month (€20 in first year), including calls to fixed lines in France and abroad. A more comprehensive internet, television and mobile phone package would cost around €60 a month. Their contracts are only available for a minimum 12-months duration.
Nevertheless, a contract with their low-cost subsidiary Sosh is available without such a restriction.
Sosh offers start from €30 a month, up to €55, with reduced rates for first year. They are combined internet/mobile phone offers, and although the internet is routed down the landline there is no separate fixed line charge payable. Neither is there any need to avail yourself of the mobile number you will be given.
With all these offers you need to check activation/termination charges that are payable, but if you are changing your operator they will often pick up any termination charges from the existing contract. Sosh has no activation charge but a termination charge of €50.
If you wish to consider a satellite offer there are the costs of installation and purchase of the dish to consider. Only if you were prepared to take a fixed term contract would the offer of free satellite installation be possible.
One of the main problems those seeking to get on-line face is the opaque nature of most of the offers and the lack of an up-to-date and comprehensive comparison site.
One of the best is Ariase where you can establish what ASDL offers are available by entering the address of your property.
This test will not tell you the speed you will be able to obtain, but more information is available by using the interactive map at Observatoire France Très Haut Débit. The map does not give the name of the operator, but all the operators have an eligibility test function on their websites.
However, particularly for properties in the countryside, caution is needed in assuming the eligibility test from the operator is entirely correct. You would also be well advised to speak to near neighbours to find out more of their experience and the speeds they get.
For those on a tight budget, or who may use their holiday home for only a few weeks a year, the cheapest solution may well be to make no local arrangements and simply use your existing mobile phone for calls and access to the internet.
With ‘roaming’ charges having been abolished within Europe since June 2017, if you are from the EEA and you already have a good phone and data package your mobile phone may meet your requirements. The changes introduced in 2017 mean you have the same charges and allowances in France as in your home country.
The option is doubly attractive, as it is possible to convert your phone into a modem by a process called ‘tethering’, which would then enable other members of the household to obtain on-line access on their computer/tablet, via Wi-Fi or an USB, provided through your mobile phone.
The speed you get will depend on the local network.
If you need it, you can normally buy an additional data allowance through your provider, or purchase a new sim card with a good data allowance.
The downside for some maybe that incoming calls to your mobile from your home country may well be more expensive, perhaps something you may welcome!
Similarly, calls to your mobile will not be received if it is tethered for on-line use. Any such calls will go to your answerphone.
Although the offer has now largely been surpassed by internet-based solutions, Orange Telecom continue to offer their fixed line service Ligne résidence secondaire.
Under the terms of the offer you need only pay the monthly rental of €18 when you activate your subscription; when you have no need of the line you can suspend it.
The cost of suspending the line is €5.99 and there is no charge for activating it. Each suspension must be for at least one month, and no longer than one year. There is also a €55 set-up charge.
In addition to the basic service, Orange also offer subscribers the option of paying a larger monthly fee in return for which they obtain free calls. Customers can opt for free calls per month of 2 hours (€24) or unlimited calls (€40). Otherwise you pay for the calls you make.
However, this offer does not come with access to the internet; it is strictly a fixed telephone line for calls.
In order to subscribe you can follow the line above or use their English speaking helpline on 0969363900 from France, or 0033 969 363900 from outside France.
You will need to present either written confirmation from your insurer that it is a résidence secondaire, or a tax bill showing that you are not a resident of France.
This offer will only continue to be available for the next few years, as it will be replaced by ADSL.