No Taxation Without … Internet




After six years of fruitless requests, petitions, demands and complaints, fed-up residents of Bussy, a 30-strong hamlet lost in the Limousin, say they are going on a tax strike until the hamlet gains access to the Internet.

Resident of Internet-deprived hamlet of Bussy talks of a tax strike

Resident of Internet-deprived hamlet of Bussy talks of a tax strike

According to a France 3 TV report the residents claim they are being treated as “second-class citizens,” because the municipality of Sainte-Anne-Saint-Priest (Haute-Vienne) sits in one of France’s internet blind spots or white zones.

“If they won’t connect us to the internet so we can communicate with the rest of the world just like everyone else why should we pay our taxes,” said one disgruntled resident interviewed by the broadcaster. “In Paris all the talk is about the wonder of 4G connections to the Internet for mobiles and tablets while down here we have nothing”,  outraged residents complain.

The blind spots or zones blanches are areas (see map) where the main ADSL operators (France Télécom-Orange; Easynet; Completel; Tiscali France; Free; Bouygues Telecom) have not installed modern communications infrastructure because they are not regarded as economic investments.

Map shows the blind spots in rural France where no ASDL connections are available

Map shows the blind spots in rural France where no ASDL connections are available (Click image for more maps)

The inhabitants say they won’t pay any national taxes unless they get at least a 2mb broadband connection to their homes — the minimum rolled out by France Télécom/Orange, the legacy network operator and owner of nearly all telephone exchanges and much of the copper network, to telephone users across France.

The protest comes just eleven weeks ahead of France’s nationwide local elections (set for March 23 with the second round on March 30) and is clearly designed to focus the minds of regional politicians.

The residents say they would be satisfied if the politicians were able to commit at the very least to a tax credit for them to buy satellite dishes. While this represents an expensive solution for the villagers, at least it offers a pathway to the Internet and simple things others take for granted, such as email, Facebook, Google, shopping at Fnac, booking holidays, dealing with bureaucrats, paying taxes on-line, reading digital media – all activities most people today take for granted except for the good people of Bussy languishing under their handicap numérique or lack of broadband.

See TV clip below :

According to the telecoms regulator (ARCEP) by late 2009, 99.8% of France’s metropolitan population had Internet access.

The Bussy hamlet is thus unfortunate to be in an area not served by any of the main operators – despite the obligation imposed on them when the national network was unbundled and France Télécom lost its telephony monopoly.

However the reality is less optimistic if one considers the quality of broadband access, as Senator Hervé Laurey pointed out in a July 2011 report: “(…) The national (ADSL) coverage is in reality just 77% for connections above or equal to a speed of 2 Mbit/s which is the threshold considered as the minimum acceptable for broadband service (…) “, he wrote.

Given the government’s commitment to roll out broadband to every part of France, a public body — “Dorsal” — was created to provide broadband in remote blind spots. However interviewed in Le Populaire newspaper about the complaints of Bussy residents, Dorsal director Yan Pamboutzoglou regretted not being the bearer of good news: “Unfortunately, Bussy is in a region where we can do nothing. It is not a comforting thing to say, but there are technical and financial limitations to consider and Bussy is far from being an isolated case in France.”

There is however a wider issue at play and that is the question of whether broadband has become a fundamental right in France.

The Constitutional Council for instance, has delivered a judgment forbidding the authority in charge of implementing the anti-piracy Hadopi Law from cutting off Internet access to convicted pirates on the grounds that Internet access is a fundamental right of the citizen.

However, to all intents and purposes this right is theoretical as efforts by lawmakers to institute a procedure under which citizens deprived of the right could take action and obtain a remedy, have so far failed writes Philippe Vion-Dury in Rue89

One senator, Hervé Maurey representing Eure in Haute-Normandie (upper Normandy), proposed a law of enforceable rights to broadband, a move in which he was supported by UMP Senator Philippe Leroy representing Moselle in Lorraine, but in vain. Even though the proposal was adopted favourably by the Senate, it was subsequently rejected by MPs in the National Assembly.

A second bill reviving the senators’ proposal and expanded on by UMP deputy for Lozère, Pierre Morel-A-L’Huissier, whose concern at gaps in rural development has led him to set up the Rural Right movement, sought to enjoin the state to identify what are called “areas of digital disability” and to help households in such areas to fund satellite connections to the internet. The debate never took place however. (See http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/14/propositions/pion1081.asp)

Indeed the government might even be considered to be shooting itself in the foot given its ongoing campaign to reduce central administration costs and tax evasion by encouraging taxpayers to file and pay taxes, social contributions, fines and other revenues owed to the exchequer, online.

Lack of Internet access is no longer just an inconvenience given how much of people’s lives are intimately tied up to the digital world and indeed French politicians regard the absence of connectability as a denial of social justice according to Guillaume Champeau writing recently in Numerama.

“At a time (June 2013) when ARCEP has announced that 1.7 million subscribers now have access to Very High Speed Internet (more than 30 Mbps), we forget there at the some 450,000 French households without any access to ADSL, due to their distance from an appropriate DSLAM (digital subscriber line access multiplexer or telephone exchange switch).

” UMP deputy Pierre Morel-A-L’Huissier has tabled a bill to help homes wanting to install a satellite Internet connection, delivering up to 20 Mbps via the new Eutelsat’s KA-SAT (at a cost of between 19.90 euro and 54.90 euros per month depending on speed).

” The main obstacle to the development of satellite Internet is the initial cost of purchasing the equipment. A connection kit comprising a satellite dish and modem, costs about 400 euros plus a further 150 euro installation fee, “says Pierre Morel-A-L’Huissier. He proposes to establish a list of  “areas of digital disability” and to offer them state finance of up to 50% of purchase and installation cost for satellite internet access equipment.

The proposal is not new, there was a similar one in 2011, co-signed at the time by a number of UMP parliamentarians but it was never debated by the House.

No tablet or iphone internet access for Bussy residents (Credit Flickr - renatomitra)

No tablet or iphone internet access for Bussy residents (Credit Flickr – renatomitra)

According to an article in La Gazette des Communes  the issue of communities deprived of broadband connection to the Internet will certainly be a hot one in the March local elections.

“Statistically the first broadband deployment plan launched ten years ago has virtually achieved its objective of full national coverage. — 99.3% of all fixed telephone lines are capable of delivering an internet connection of between 512 Kbps and 30 Mbps according to an ARCEP report published in late June 2013 . At the same time the 3.6 million broadband subscribers via fixed lines in late 2003 rose to 22.2 million, including 1.8 million Very High Broadband connections (above 30 Mbps) by 2013. 98.3% of French residents have access to ADSL services from home … The “France numérique 2012” plan provided for the provision of broadband access for all by 2012, but at a low threshold – 512 kbit / s – and with the occasional recourse to “remedial technologies” such as satellite access.”

The article sets out in great detail how rural areas are served and the range of solutions introduced by local authorities including for example: “…’in Nièvre, la Manche, or in Charentes or the Creuse, Public Initiative Networks (PIN) have deployed WiMAX services,’ says Stéphane Lelux, manager of Tactis, a firm specializing in supporting digital community projects.

In contrast, the Auvergne region, opted with its four départements to finance the modernization of Orange Group telephone exchanges in the area thus ensuring significant ADSL coverage. .. .Orange Group broadband coverage is not limited to the copper network: ‘There are no more broadband grey areas in France . Several technologies have been mobilized, where there is no ADSL, there is a satellite internet solution,’ says Janet Bruno, Orange France’s Director of Relations with Local Authorities.

However ‘there is no will to properly plan this modernization across the rural areas’ , says Michel Lebon, a digital networks consultant currently involved in a project management for the General Council of the Lot (46).” He cited the example of the small village of Thegra running a pilot scheme for the nationwide rural Schools Connect programme launched by Orange Group and the Association of Mayors of Rural France which chose to connect the school to a satellite Internet service.

Yet says Lebon: ” Obliging a school to opt for satellite as its default internet connection while fibre-optic cables have been laid through two neighbouring municipalities in this area, marks a real inconsistency in terms of planning and action. Connecting schools to fibre-optic networks is a priority under the France Very High Speed (France Très Haut Débit ) plan,” he adds.  The Lot is a catch-up area among the nine less fortunate départements. It is one of the signatories to the innovative départements charter, launched in 2004 by France Telecom to compete with the PIN initiatives.

Lastly according to Orange Group’s Bruno Janet the grand plan is to connect 57% of French households to fibre-optic connections under the France Very High Speed programme while a further 43% will be offered a mix of solutions”  (See http://www.pcinpact.com/news/80151-le-ftth-connait-forte-progression-en-france.htm)

So if your hamlet, village or rural idyll is not yet linked to the great wide digital world out there you might want to join cause with the 30 stalwarts in Bussy by way of a joint demarche. But for now your expressions of interest will have to be made by letter … at least La Poste still delivers.

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

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