Fibre has been "about to take off" on the telecoms scene in France and elsewhere for many years. It was so when I first wrote about it in the French popular science magazine "Science et Vie" in 1979. This week the French company Acome invited me to their seventh annual event celebrating VERY broad band: "Fête du très haut débit" near their headquarters in Mortain in Normandie. For those of you who haven't heard of Acome (I hadn't), it's an industrial group organised as a workers' cooperative that manufactures telecoms cable equipment, with a staff of around 1400 and annual sales of over €400 million and factories in eight countries. It is the only remaining French manufacturer of optical cable and the second largest in Europe.
Acome CEO Jacques de Heere kicked off by pointing out that France is labouriously coming up to a total of 200,000 fibre subscribers, whereas China brings in 30 million new subscribers a year. Orange's fibre man Yves Parfait rolled off his company's upbeat figures: Orange fibres are available in 300 towns in France, 100 more than last year and it now passes 2 million homes. This means 2 million homes could sign up if they want to, but take-up is much lower - only about 200,000 actually subscribe, although 4,000 more subscribe each week. That's a penetration of only 10%. SFR, the other telco present, had similar figures, scaled down a little: 1.2 million homes passed, 120,000 subscribers. Penetration still hovers around 10%. Stephane Lelux, from the consulting firm Tactis, outlined how fibre distribution is still very patchy: in two departements (Paris and the nearby Haut de Seine) fibre is available to 30% of the population, but it falls off steeply after that and residents of 54 departments (mainland France has 95) have no access to fibre at all.