ADSL to Boost French 'Net Speeds in November

The French Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry has approved France Telecom SA's tariff plan for high-speed ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) service, meaning that some French homes will soon have flat-rate, high-speed access to the Internet.

For 265 francs per month (US$41) starting in mid-November, users in Paris' six central arrondissements (or neighborhoods) and in three other cities in the Paris area will be able to stay online as long as they want, over their existing phone lines. Today, home Internet users pay for online time on a per-minute basis, since phone calls in France -- even local calls -- are billed on a per-minute basis.

Other areas of France will get the ADSL service in accordance with market demand, said France Telecom spokeswoman Estelle Rozine. "We have not guaranteed it for all of France -- it will become available as the market demand dictates," she said.

France Telecom is ready to offer the service immediately, but the 15-week delay is needed to let ISPs that compete with the incumbent telecom company's Wanadoo Internet service prepare for the ADSL roll out, Rozine said. The ADSL service will support speeds of 128K bits per second (bps) upstream to 500K bps downstream, she added, noting that the monthly fee does not include an ADSL modem or the ISP (Internet service provider) fee.

Estimates of the current number of French internautes -- the French term for Internet users -- range from about 1.5 million [M] to 4 million [M]. June 15.] But everyone agrees that the market is growing quickly. Last year, for example, France Telecom's Internet traffic increased by four times over 1997 and accounted for 70 percent of all the provider's data traffic, with about 495,000 Wanadoo subscribers at year end.

Over the next three years, France Telecom plans to invest as much as 2 billion [B] francs (US$309 million [M]) in setting up the ADSL service, Rozine said.

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