Organized by Mon Territoire Numérique every year in March in Deauville, the RIP Estates General finally took place in video format. The meeting of public initiative networks made it possible to gauge the impact of the health crisis on the very high-speed broadband projects carried by local authorities.
At the end of March, InfraNum warned that a complete halt to the fibre optic deployment projects would be a "catastrophe" likely to cause 12 months of inertia. Today, the Federation of Digital Infrastructure Industrialists is breathing - a little. Its president, Étienne Dugas, says "We have worked on the ordinances, on the various decrees with more or less success" in order to "avoid the complete shutdown of the industrial tool, which is done".
Overall, activity fell, on average, to around 30% of nominal production during containment. This made it possible to keep the industrial facilities in operation, although the situation varied greatly from one region to another.
Today, the time has come for a return to load: 50% activity last week, 70% this week. At any rate, these are the figures announced by Julien Denormandie, the French Minister for Urban Affairs and Housing, who has been in charge of HSBB issues since 2017. But Etienne Dugas warns that they should be taken with caution: "In terms of productivity, we are still far from the rates we could have had previously".
This observation is corroborated by Lionel Recorbet for SFR FttH: "We are going to have a lot, a lot of difficulties to get back to 100%". Cyril Luneau, Director of Community Relations at Orange, also warns that a return to pre-crisis fibre deployment levels "is not for now". The Covid episode will have "a serious and profound impact on the calendars and milestones for the end of this year, and no doubt for 2022", i.e. the deadlines for the operator's commitment in the AMII zone.
The operators therefore warn that at this stage it is difficult to quantify the additional delays. Pascal Rialland, President of Covage, nevertheless risks predicting a postponement of deployment of "4 to 6 months in 2021" for the 75,000 fibre optic lines that Covage was to deploy in 2020 in Calvados.
Schedule slippages will be inevitable and consequently delays in commercialization could ultimately weigh on the economy of the projects carried by the communities. As will the more immediate additional costs associated with health precautions.
It is not possible at this stage to put a figure on these additional costs. InfraNum has also commissioned an impact study for the end of the month. The Federation of Industrialists intends to use this work as a basis for the recovery plan promised by the government for next September.
While waiting for a clearer picture of the impact of the health crisis, the participants in the Estates General of the RIPs preferred to insist on other levers for accelerating deployment in order to respond to the digital impatience.
On the industrial side, the immediate cash needs of companies in the sector were highlighted in order to be able to continue their activity. At the height of the crisis, infrastructure operators have multiplied initiatives to relieve the cash flow of their subcontractors (reductions in payment deadlines, advances and other subsidies). Now, the idea is to "put more agility" in the payments of France THD subsidies to local authorities, Julien Denormandie announces.
But the President of the French Telecoms Federation, Arthur Dreyfuss, tempers "the answer cannot only be public money". Beyond new financial help, the Secretary General of Altice France is waiting for "all those little everyday obstacles" to the deployment of fibre to be lifted. Many grievances have been voiced for years that many HSBB actors would like to see finally heard. In this exceptional situation, "we have to beat the iron", Patrick Chaize sums up. By making, for example, digital infrastructures an essential asset, argues the Senator of Ain and President of Avicca. An approach allowing the deployment to overcome some of these obstacles, also believes Arthur Dreyfuss, deploring that "we do not benefit from the right that gas or electricity enjoy.
An idea that does not convince Julien Denormandie, for whom such a status could be misunderstood by the French deprived of a good connection. The minister prefers to go through other texts for certain operational advances to which he says he is "open". On the other hand, concerning the very pressing question of co-ownership, the minister kicks the ball, referring to the "balances" of the Elan law. Operators and local authorities have therefore not finished with this painstaking work.
Source : DegroupNews