The thorny and electric issue of the extinction of Orange’s historic copper network is resurfacing. By the end of September, the French telecoms giant will present to Arcep, the sector regulator, its plan to “decommission” this infrastructure which dates from the 1960s, and which is still widely used today. hui for telephone and ADSL. While fiber is in full deployment, 16 million homes still depend on the copper network to access the Internet. Even if this figure decreases sharply over the years.
This deadline was foreseen. Last year, Orange and Arcep agreed to set the terms according to which the French leader in telecoms will go about gradually shutting down its copper network by 2030. In September 2020, Sébastien Soriano, the former president of Arcep, hinted that if Orange presented with a “Ambitious plan”, the institution could increase the “price of unbundling”. That is to say the price, regulated, paid by SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free to the incumbent operator to access its infrastructure to sell their ADSL subscriptions.
“If Orange came up with an extremely concrete and ambitious plan for the accelerated migration of its subscribers from copper to fiber, then, in this case, it would be fair to open the question of a more significant increase in the copper pair,” specified it in our columns. In fact, if Orange closed its network more quickly, there would be a shortfall in this case for it. “
“We must find an economic equation”
Laure de La Raudière, the new president of Arcep, recently confirmed that an increase in the price of unbundling could be considered. For Orange and its rivals, the stakes are colossal. This is a big money business. For the number one in telecoms, it is out of the question to financially support the end of copper work alone.
“This end of copper life must not only be borne by Orange in terms of economic impact given the cost of this network, which is increasing, while the number of customers is falling,” Fabienne Dulac, the boss of the network, said on Tuesday. ‘Orange France, at a press conference. Its economic profitability is now decreasing. We have to find an economic equation on this copper network. This is an extremely important point in the discussions to come. “
A huge building site
Orange wants the other operators to go to the cash register, via a significant increase in the price of unbundling. This increased from 9.46 euros per line in 2020, to 9.65 euros for the period 2021-2023. An increase deemed insufficient in the eyes of the incumbent operator, who until then wanted to see this price increase from 2 to 3 euros, particularly in view of the cost of maintaining this old network which will crescendo. Orange hopes that its negotiations with Arcep will “Rework this price”, dixit Fabienne Dulac.
“This must be linked to both the cost of preventive and curative maintenance of the network until it is shut down,” says the manager. But we will also have a discussion on the cost of decommissioning copper. “
This project promises to be enormous. “In total, we have more than a million kilometers of copper cables [à retirer], knowing that 22 million lines still exist ”, argues Fabienne Dulac. Orange wants to industrialize decommissioning. Experiments have been carried out in recent months in certain municipalities. The objective is that in the end, fiber becomes the reference network, and that households that will not have access to this technology benefit from alternative solutions via, for example, satellite or fixed-use 4G.
Competition ready to fire
Opposite, the competition will not stand idly by. There is no doubt that SFR, Bouygues Telecom and Free are preparing to fire, the cannons stuffed to the mouth. All criticize, in unison, the possibility of an increase in the price of unbundling. They have long protested against Orange’s position which consists in saying that this tariff should be increased to encourage the sector to favor fiber. To hear them, their great rival found in this argument a crude way of making their pockets. ” Stephane Richard [le PDG d’Orange] wants to make a hold-up and hold up the competition when copper is an absolute rent! Today, that generates 800 to 900 million euros in pure cash flow for Orange, with prices that are much too high! », Moaned last winter a manager of an alternative operator in The gallery. Summer promises to be very hot in telecoms.