Speaking yesterday in Clermont-Ferrand, President Hollande sought to infuse a little optimism in what has otherwise been a disappointing week for both his administration and France. After conceding his initial 2013 growth projections were in essence a pipe dream, President Hollande chose to pivot to a more positive topic…Namely, laying out his vision on how harnessing the full potential offered by the digital economy, would usher in a brighter, higher growth future for France. At the heart of his program is bringing ultra-high speed internet to all of France. He predicts that this move will reinforce the competitiveness of France’s companies and improve the quality of government services through improving and simplifying interactions between businesses, clients, and/or government.
With Minister Pellerin in attendance, President Hollande’s principal announcement was that €20 billion would be committed to finance the build out of ultra high-speed internet across all of France. The principal goal is to have 50% of the mainland France (in particular urban areas and areas of strategic importance in terms of economic activity), on ultra-high speed internet in five years. The remaining 50% of France will be covered at some point during the following 5 years. If this objective is achieved, France will more-or-less hit the EU Digital Agenda Objectives. It is important to note that all of this €20 billion will, of course, not come from the state. The state will pitch-in €300 million over five years, so a total of €6 billion. The rest of the funds will be contributed by local municipalities/communities and the telcos. More specifically, the telcos will be responsible for completely financing the build-out in the most densely populated areas, the French government (national and local) will pick up most of the tab in rural areas, and moderately densely populated areas will be financed via public-private funds.
One positive thing about this move is that regardless of the big budget cuts that have massively reduced the EU’s funding for local high-speed internet deployment, France is not using this as an excuse to pull back or defer their plans. Instead, they’re putting their money where their mouth is and fully committing to achieving the set objectives. However, you still get the sense that the digital economy plan for France is still very much a work in progress. They do have some bold ideas, even if we don’t always necessarily agree with them. However, now is the time to string them all together into a coherent, single plan. Ultra-high speed internet is a ‘must have’, but what about the other ‘must haves’ that have to be in place to extend the success France’s digital sector has had in recent years to the broader economy?
Another thing that would be useful is educating the public about the potential of the digital economy as an answer to many of the challenges France faces. If, in fact, the government believes this, which they seem to (or at least are hoping to believe) the public needs to understand what this all means and why and how it’s going to benefit them. Soliciting the public for feedback, such as Minister Pellerin is doing with Paris Capitale Numérique, is a good step in the right direction.