Over 200 local mayors have complained about the lack of maintenance of the fixed line telephone network in rural areas.
In an open letter to the telecoms operator Orange, the mayors have expressed alarm that "a basic service such as simple access to a fixed line" is no longer guaranteed for part of the population.
They call for an "unprecedented effort" by Orange, to ensure that a universal service is available.
French law provides that access to a fixed telephone must be provided to every citizen and in 2017 Orange signed an agreement with the State which set out service standards for the system.
That announcement followed a reprimand from the telecoms regulator Arcep, who served the operator with a notice
for failing to meet its universal service obligations for a fixed line
Since then, Orange have stepped up their game, with Arcep stating in September 2020 that: "The
quality of service indicators have improved significantly and almost
all of them have exceeded the annual objectives set by the Minister for
2019. Arount 85% of breakdowns identified in 2019 were repaired within
46 hours, compared to around 62 hours in 2018."
However, the mayors consider that “the reality behind these indicators is quite different: rural territories, where there are few lines, are neglected and abandoned.”
The mayors castigate the fact that "the opening of a line can take more than six months and repairs take weeks" whereas the operator is supposed to intervene within forty-eight hours.
They state that "the situation we are living through is the result of years of contempt, negligence and partial repair. Bent, broken or collapsed poles line our roads. Distended electrical wires fall on trees or lie on the ground, when they are not removed. The intervention of unqualified sub-contractors sometimes worsens an already delicate situation."
As a result of the failure of Orange to properly maintain the service, the mayors say they have been obliged to step in and repair broken telephone poles, with the works funded from the local budget.
By 2030 Orange plans to completely replace the copper network with a fibre optic network and the 2017 agreement is to be replaced by a new agreement which provides a more ambitious definition of a universal service, to include broadband Internet access.
However, the mayors are concerned that this cannot mean neglect of the existing lines for 10 years. They consider it will require an unprecedented effort by the operator and the new agreement will therefore need to provide for more precise verification than at present; indicators at that go beyond the current department level down to the commune " reflect the reality of the rural world", they recommend.
In 2018 Orange Telecom announced the prospective end of fixed
telephone lines as they move towards a completely digital network. They
no longer offer a new fixed line analogue subscription which does not
provide an internet connection