THE NEED FOR SPEED
New government investment could make slow internet access a thing of the past in France, which is good news for homeowners, as Bob Elliott explains
It seems that broadband has never been more important whether you’re moving to or within France, so it pays to find out what service you can get before you commit to a property purchase.
With the steady move towards shopping and banking online, and keeping in touch with those close to you through Skype and social media, many people feel totally cut off without what is a relatively new means of communication.
Making sure you are house-hunting in areas where there is a broadband service that will meet your minimum needs is quite easy, but first you need to decide if you want to limit yourself to web browsing and emails, or if you want to watch videos and TV programmes. The slowest speed that you will see is 0.5Mbps, which is poor and unreliable at peak times of internet use as all domestic services are ‘contended’, meaning that you share access with others locally. For those with basic requirements, a minimum speed of 1Mbps is all that is needed. However we have seen a dramatic increase in the demand for ever faster broadband, and if a home does not have this it will impact on its value.
WATCH YOUR SPEED
Checking broadband speed is easy (providing you have access to the internet). When trying to narrow down your property search area, the website observatoire.francethd.fr shows general broadband coverage for anywhere in France. If you’ve found a house you want to buy, go to degroupetest.com and enter the number of the telephone line at the property and you will get an accurate speed indication. If there is no telephone line installed, you can enter the number of the nearest property. It will not be completely accurate but will give a good indication of what you can expect.
The results of these tests may be disappointing, especially if you are searching in rural areas where there are longer distances between properties and the local exchange. This year is likely to see some big changes in areas where speeds are slower because from late 2018, all telecom companies will no longer be able to offer the standard line rental and broadband service, and all calls will go over the broadband service. All telecom companies are given advanced notice of when a local exchange is going to be upgraded, so before striking a property off your list, do check with your preferred provider to see if the service is going to be improved soon.
A TIME FOR CHANGE
The speed available depends on the distance between the local exchange and the property. Much of the equipment in these exchanges is 40 years old and simply not appropriate for today’s and tomorrow’s needs. To address this, in 2013 the French government announced a plan to roll out high-speed internet, réseau très haut débit (THD), across the whole of France by 2022, and President Macron has said that he wants this deadline to be brought forward to 2020.
However, a survey by consumer group UFC Que Choisir has estimated that the roll-out is at least 10 years behind schedule and that full implementation of the programme will not be achieved until 2035. As the roll-out of this investment is starting with larger towns with government buildings, hospitals, schools, etc, rural areas will be the last to benefit.
The major upgrade of the national network will see changes affecting larger towns first, then smaller ones with fibre connections becoming available but at a higher cost. With seven and a half million homes in France unable to access high-speed internet, these improvements cannot come soon enough. There will also be upgrades of local exchanges that will continue until 2022, with faster broadband being made available to many, however small and rural communes may not benefit.
One possible solution will be to bring faster speed to rural areas by linking their telephone and broadband services to the mobile network, which may be possible due to the big investment in the 3G and 4G networks. Trials are also being held in five major French towns to develop the 5G network but this may not become available to rural areas for some time.
From 2019 it will not be possible to order a new analogue telephone line and all calls will be carried by the broadband service. Where the line speed is too slow to carry broadband, some companies will carry the service via a SIM on the mobile network while keeping 90% of the fixed line functions. By 2022 all existing analogue lines will be converted to the new service. Others have yet to advise on their solutions.
So, if you are already connected you may wish to contact your telecom company and ask if you can be upgraded now, and if not, when the improved service will become available in your area. Telecom providers all have advanced information about these changes before it becomes publicly available, so it is worth checking. Nothing is more certain than that there will be big changes in the services available over the next three years, so do make sure that you don’t miss out.