France Telecom today brushed aside objections from the French telecoms regulator and said it is going ahead with a massive roll out of high speed Internet access.
The operator said it will spend $312 million installing ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) across France. Earlier this month BT announced similar plans for the UK.
Today's announcement was approved by two powerful French government ministers and has raised questions about the power and effectiveness of the French telecoms regulator Autorite de Regulation des Telecommunication (ART).
ADSL provides Internet access using regular copper phone networks at up to 16 times the speed of ISDN. France Telecom's first ADSL services will be launched in November in two areas of Paris and also in three suburban towns. National roll out will follow over the next three years.
A spokeswoman for France Telecom said: "We want to offer rapid Internet access to both residential customers and small and large businesses with high capacity Internet needs, using our fixed wire network. There has been very big demand for this service for a long time."
Subscriptions, including unlimited phone calls, will cost $78 a month. Of this, some $51 will be for the actual ADSL service, the rest for modem rental and monthly ISP fees.
ART had earlier criticised France Telecom for not respecting all its rulings on prices, control of the local call market and other areas covered by deregulation. ART said the government had sometimes overruled its decisions and sided with France Telecom.
Just this week, ART head Jean-Michel Hubert proposed either more transparency surrounding governments decisions or the transfer of full powers, including sanctions and fines, to ART.
But the approval of today's decision by the government comes as a blow to the regulator whose independence and powers have again been questioned.
Meanwhile, the State controlled telecoms operator said its decision to push ahead with ADSL followed trials at a number of sites around France.
"The approval (from the government) that has now been obtained lays the basis for full scale ADSL deployment in France. The advancement of the information society is based, among other things, on the ability of ambitious players to bring innovative products and services to market in the shortest time frame possible," France Telecom said in a statement.
As for the general ART criticism, the France Telecom spokeswoman said: "We have no comment except that these people are entitled to their views."
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