Orange doesn't fade. The day after the announcement of a new agreement with the government aimed at restarting the deployment of fiber in France and particularly in moderately dense areas, the operator was fined by the telecoms regulator (Arcep). Considering that Orange has not respected its commitments made in 2018 in the so-called AMII zone (call for demonstration of investment intention), the authority headed by Laure de la Raudière decided to impose a fine of 26 million euros to the company headed by Christel Heydemann.
As recalled in a press release from Arcep, Orange made a legally enforceable commitment in 2018 aimed at covering 3,000 municipalities in less dense areas of private initiatives in the territory (AMII zone) with optical fiber up to the subscriber. As of December 31, 2020, a minimum of 92% of housing and professional premises had to be automatically connectable and at most 8% of these housing units could be connected on request within six months. That's a total of 100%.
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In a first formal notice issued to the operator, in September 2022, Arcep noted that only 88% of housing had actually been made connectable. After a long legal procedure, and noting despite a contradictory procedure that the group still does not respect its commitments, Arcep decided to take action. “The non-compliance, by the company Orange of the first deadline of its commitments, with regard to which it has been given formal notice, is particularly serious, in that it notably harms the interest and the digital planning of territories, and the interest of end users in their access to networks,” explains the authority in a press release.
The sanction, 26 million euros, is the largest ever given by Arcep. It represents 5 times the amount of the previous record fine, imposed for a dispute with Numericable in 2011. And it has the gift of annoying the French operator, who was quick to react. Contesting the sanction pronounced against it, the group will refer the matter to the Council of State.
Orange finds the sanction particularly unfair and considers that it has fulfilled its commitments when Arcep was given formal notice. “Orange had achieved its deployment objectives and connected more than 11.371 million (92%) of planned premises (...) The sanction pronounced by ARCEP is therefore not based on the volume of deployments not achieved, notes the group in a press release adding that the sanction “concerns part of the remaining 8% of premises, namely 543,000 premises which should have been declared connectable on demand for the benefit of other operators. And this even though no commercial operator to date offers its customers such an offer based on connectivity on demand.”
Furious, the group denounces a “totally disproportionate financial” sanction against it, recalling that it is the one which invests “the most in the deployment of fiber in France”. Orange protests against a decision that is also counterproductive, which could, according to it, “reduce by the same amount the amount of investments made in the deployment of fiber, to the detriment of households waiting for connection”. “26 million euros is the cost of connecting a city like Caen for example,” underlines a person close to Orange.
The timing of Arcep's sanction is not insignificant, the day after the announcement of the agreement between Orange and the State, revealed by Le Figaro on Monday, but also at the very moment when Avicca, association of communities engaged in digital technology, has been holding its fall conference since Tuesday. This same Avicca, and its president (Senator Patrick Chaize), has been pointing out for months Orange's non-compliance with its promise of fiber optic coverage of moderately dense areas.
Pointed out by certain communities for its supposed lack of emancipation in relation to the country's leading operator and the power in place, Arcep marks its independence here with a radical decision which surprised even beyond the Orange group. This sanction must also be placed in the context of a recent report from the Court of Auditors which noted that the repressive apparatus of Arcep has been used much less under the current presidency of Laure de la Raudière compared to her predecessor Sébastien Soriano.
It remains to be seen whether this decision will be appreciated by the State. Surveyed, the minister's office explains that it does not want to “comment on the decision of an independent regulator. This decision deals with the past while the agreement we negotiated for nine months prepares for the future. Present on Tuesday for the opening of the Avicca conference, Jean-Noël Barrot, the minister responsible for digital transition, nevertheless recalled in his speech his preference for dialogue and new agreements over sanctions or sanctions procedures. fine. He will not have been heard by the authority.