Thursday, February 10, 2005

French law says cities can do fiber (or copper or whatever)

Dirk van der Woude, an occasional correspondent from Amsterdam (and a project leader of its very interesting CityNet public/private fiber project), offers a smile and a recently updated model law from France that focuses on ensuring the rights of municipalities to provide their citizens with telecom services.

Here it is in Dirk's own words:
Hi John,

It's quite a thing over there.

I suppose quite a few people over there still know their French - and
the quote below from the attached French Law, revised last year might
be inspiring. French communities have the explicit right to deploy
their own network!

I wonder if the French are willing to reconsider the sale of Louisiana?


greetings & thnx for your blog,
Dirk van der Woude
The law looks as if, on the balance, it is a good one that makes sure that local governments are allowed to play. But...I am not much of a French speaker and between my broken deciphering and BabelFish it looks to me like the French law (en fran├žais, BabelFish translation, original pdf) has a clause that allows private companies a right of first refusal -- that is, if a private company wants to meet the need as the city defines it, it is allowed to do so. In the US a recent Pennsylvania law with a particularly odious example of such a clause caused a lot of protest. A determined French municipality could probably define its needs in such a way that it could do as it thought best for its citizens; but I believe such a limit, even if seldom enforceable in reality, establishes the principle of handing the people's right of self-determination over to corporations.

Certainly in natural monopoly situations, the representatives of the people should not be forced to stand aside as a monopoly is established that will shape the future of its citizens.

Update 7:30: Dirk assures me that, as is the French way, determined policy is driving this law, and that the law actually organizes French and EU loopholes to enable the municipalities to provide telecom services. The larger message is that municipal services--and the interconnection of municipal networks--are a large part of French and European strategy more generally. According to documents he has sent 200 of Sweden's 290 municipalities have such utilities.

Sound pretty sensible and forward looking. Local folks get to build what local folks want. I am envious. Still, I don't think France would actually want us back. We've developed an unfortunate tendency to fry alligator and saute nutria over here. :-)

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