France pushes broadband plan

Minister sets 2010 as target date

PARIS — Eric Besson, France’s secretary of state for the development of the digital economy, outlined some of the key features in his government’s plans for revamping Gaul’s competitiveness in the sector on Monday.

The scheme, known as “Digital France 2012,” was first mooted by President Nicolas Sarkozy in March.

Besson, appointed to the newly created ministry that same month, has since declared a primary objective of the plan is to provide universal access within France to high-speed broadband — now at 54% — by the end of 2012.

However, he announced on Monday that the government would like to see blanket broadband coverage available two years earlier than it had first proposed.

Besson said that a call for applications would be made by the state at some point next year for the provision of universal access to broadband Internet “at affordable prices — less than E35 ($47) per month, including equipment” to be made available throughout France before the end of 2010.

The minister said that the plan “can and should be an accelerator of (economic) growth.”

“The digital economy is the main factor in increased competitiveness. But, in France, this investment is two times lower than in the United States, and three times lower than in northern European countries.”

He also announced that Alsace in Eastern France would be the first French region to stop analog TV transmissions entirely by the end of next year.

Three pilot changeover schemes are to be introduced during 2009 in various parts of the Alsace region.

Besson reaffirmed the government’s commitment toward the complete switch from analog to digital TV broadcasting before the end of November 2011.

The minister was speaking on behalf of President Sarkozy, who cancelled his scheduled press conference on the digital economy to prepare for an upcoming EU summit on the international economic crisis.