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Digital divide: 7 million French people lack high-speed Internet access

Most of us take the Internet for granted, be it for booking a train ticket, transferring money, filing our tax declarations, or even finding a soul mate... However, vast areas of France still suffer from very patchy high-speed Internet access. Urgent action is now required, especially with the dematerialisation of public services scheduled for 2022.

Digital divide: 7 million French people lack high-speed Internet access

The National Council of Towns (Conseil National des Villes – CNV) considers universal access to digital technology to be a legally binding right under ordinary law. This “digital right” takes precedence over all others because it enables citizens to claim all their other rights and benefits (housing, education, family allowance, employment). 

The situation today

According to a survey by the UFC-Que Choisir french consumer association, conducted in 2017, 7.5 million consumers are deprived of proper Internet access with data transfer rates below 3 Mbits/s. Worst of all, 500,000 people have no access at all. 

• A third of all villages with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants either have no network access or suffer from excessively slow data transmission rates. 

• Sixteen départements stand out for being areas in which 20% or more of inhabitants are poorly served, such as Meuse (31.8%), Guyane (29.8%) and Creuse (28.9%).

• Ile de France – especially Paris, Hauts-de-Seine and Val-de-Marne – benefits from the best access.

A national priority

Launched in February 2013, the Very High-Speed Internet Plan for France (Plan France Très Haut débit) aims to cover the entire country by 2022. It includes a budget of €20 billion over 10 years, including €3.3 billion in government funding.

However, UFC-Que Choisir considers that this plan may not come to fruition before 2035.

Access is one thing, expertise is another

For areas that remain poorly served by fibre-optic Internet services, the consumer association is concerned about rising prices and the disappearance of ADSL broadband services. It is campaigning for high-quality Internet access that is not in the luxury price bracket. The issue of Internet access is compounded by the problem of digital illiteracy, a phenomenon affecting French people who are incapable of sending an email, for example. According to the association Les Petits Frères des Pauvres, 15 million people do not own a computer or do not know how to use one. This is a widespread problem. According to a survey by the Institut Montaigne published in November, 70% of French Members of Parliament lack digital skills and only 5% of them are expert users. The National Council of Towns warns of the risk of new technological breakthroughs, such as artificial intelligence, alienating populations that are currently at ease with digital practices.

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