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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 11:39 GMT
France takes to the web
TGV trains, SNCF
Big in France: High-speed trains and high-speed net
By the BBC's Rory Mulholland in Paris

Broadband net connections have grown by 500% in a year in France, and now one in eight French homes is equipped with a high-speed internet link.

The revolution began with cable companies, but it is the ADSL connections offered by the phone company France Telecom that have fuelled the recent spectacular growth.

ADSL, or Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line, turns a standard telephone line into one that can support data speeds up to 10 times faster than is possible with dial-up modems.

ADSL is expected to dominate in home broadband simply because more homes have a phone line than are passed by the wires of cable companies.

Cost cutting

About 700,000 French homes are now equipped with a cable or ADSL high-speed connection, according to the latest figures from market research company Barometres Multimedia de Mediametrie.

Other figures from the company show that internet use in France is showing swift growth.

The French were slow to venture online partly because of the success of Minitel, a limited precursor to the web.

BT engineer, BT
BT has been slow to roll out broadband
But now France is fast discovering the pleasures of surfing.

Internet activity increased by 26% in the last three months of 2001. There are now an estimated 15.6 million "internautes", or web surfers, in the country.

The first companies to offer broadband were cable operators such as Noos.

Its cheapest high-speed connection costs 45 euros (27.50), a month, with either a 12-euro (7.30) monthly charge for the required modem or a one-off 119-euro (72) payment to purchase it.

But it is France Telecom's services that have caused the broadband explosion over the last 12 months. It sells its high-speed connections - both ADSL and cable - directly or through its net division Wanadoo.

Its first ADSL lines went on sale just over two years ago. By the end of 2000, it had 60,000 subscribers.

Hooking up

At the end of last year, it was selling 15,000 lines a week. A 30% drop in price since last summer is the main reason for the rush.

Its DIY starter pack, which lets customers hook themselves up, costs 150 euros (92).

At 45 euros, its ASDL monthly fees are similar to competitors such as Club Internet, Mangoosta, or cable operator Noos.

France Telecom pointed this out in its response to an enquiry launched in late December by the European Commission into claims that Wanadoo was selling its ADSL services at a loss to stifle competition.

Competition complaints

Yet, Marie-Christine Levet, head of T-Online France/Club Internet, insisted that France Telecom was "reconstituting the monopoly" it once held as the state-owned telecom company.

She also complained that Wanadoo had cornered "more than 90%" of the French ADSL.

Like the UK, her company and other competitors have to rent lines from France Telecom at prices that "do not fit into an economically viable model", she said.

France Telecom has high hopes for the future of broadband.

About half of its telephone lines can be adapted for ADSL at the moment, and the company says that this will increase to 80% by the end of 2003.

See also:

03 Apr 01 | Business
UK behind in broadband race
19 Nov 01 | dot life
Is broadband working?
14 Jan 02 | Sci/Tech
Will 2002 be the year of broadband?
19 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Go-ahead for DIY broadband
01 Oct 01 | Business
Bankruptcy poses broadband debate
22 Aug 01 | Sci/Tech
French failing to click
14 Jan 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: France
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