Thursday, October 16, 2008

Business problems - Un problème de l'entreprise

I ran into a bit of a problem registering the fiber business. Everything is ready to go (bank, documents, etc) but there is a lingering question about my work status here in France. I have a peculiar visa which likely won't allow me to be the person running it, the "gerant".

I think I've found another solution though. I'm going to start a non-profit fiber "association" in the village instead of a business. From discussions with my lawyer friends I think I have the right to work with a non-for-profit association as long as I'm not paid.

One of the big differences for me will be tied to the money I put in. The money I put into a non-profit venture could be repaid (possibly with interest) but nothing more than that. I gave it some thought and had to think back to the reasons I started this project. I want to have a fiber connections to our homes, but even more, I want the experience of planning and installing a fiber network. Profit or no profit the mission is the same.

I'll do some research this weekend about starting the association and post my findings.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Too late for changes - Trop tard pour les changements

I received great advice from the Dutch about how municipal government should build the new exchange next year in order to promote competitive fiber development. The problem is I'm a bit too late.

I received word this weekend that the contract and negotiations with France Telecom were too far advanced for the municipality to be able to make changes. It's too bad that the village will be paying for the construction of the building (for France Telecom's benefit) but won't be able to dictate any new terms for fiber. I'm taken back that an exchange being built anywhere in the world in the year 2009 would lack space for competitive fiber equipment.

Hopefully other villages poised to give EUR 50,000 to France Telecom will be able to use the excellent advice I received from my Dutch friends to promote fiber competition in the future.

This means that I'll have to approach this a different way - possibly with a separate fiber shelter next to the copper exchange. Each of the competitive operators has fiber passing through the exchange already so we'd simply have to put the fiber shelter next to this line so they'd be able to interconnect easily.

I'll work on setting up a meeting with the competitive operators this week to discuss a plan.

Planning a new exchange / La planification pour un nouveau commutateur

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, one of the key items in our village may be the design of the new telecommunications exchange they are building next year. I wrote to some Dutch friends (fiber experts) asking for their advice on a number of key questions.

Here is my attempt to paraphrase their answers:

  1. Question:
    Would it be better to build a separate exchange for fiber next to the copper exchange or to put the ODF in the same physical building?

    It is extremely important that the incumbent operator can't "hold anyone hostage" if fiber is going to terminate in the same building as copper. There are a number of points to consider in such a case:

    • There needs to be a room which is separate from the main DSL equipment and that is accessible from the outside for the ODF and fiber interconnection. This room needs to be large enough to accommodate operator's active equipment if necessary.

    • The municipality needs to have the key and control access rights to this room.

    • There needs to be a conduit from the room to the perimeter of the land owned by the incumbent and this needs to be large enough to accommodate all the fiber coming in (see size questions below).

    • There needs to be a separate power supply from France Telecom - essentially a second meter for the municipality to the room.

    • The room needs to be large enough to house a UPS and air conditioning if necessary.

    • There needs to be a hole in the wall between the fiber room and the ISP's equipment which is large enough to pass 3000+ fibers (1500 households x 2 + some spare)

  2. Question:
    How much space in the building/room is necessary to house an ODF?

    One ODF will support 800 fibers and it measures roughly 1 meter x 50 cm, including space for patch cords. You need to be able to access the ODF from the front and the back.

    One 19 inch rack will support the electronics for roughly 400 users, dissipating 3-5 watts per user. The rack needs to be accessible from the front side.

  3. Question:
    In planning for conduit access, how many fibers should we plan on for each home?

    There is no need for more than 2 fibers per residence. The trend is actually moving to one fiber per residence with three colors per fiber (data upload, data download and television). Putting in two fibers at the same time is a good way to hedge your bets though.

  4. Question:
    How much space will we need inside existing conduit to push out point-to-point fiber from the exchange point to the village?

    One of the projects in the Netherlands uses cables with 96 fibers inside. They can bunch 6 of these cables (6 x 96 = 576 fibers) into one 50 mm HDPE duct. It would take 6 of these 50 mm ducts to provide 2 point-to-point fiber connections to each of the 1500 households in the village, with a little to spare.

    Using these numbers, the space we'd need for the conduit leaving the exchange (before disaggregation) would be 100 mm x 300 mm.

As always, I'm grateful to my Dutch friends for their advice.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Working together with the municipal government / Collaboration avec le gouvernement municipal

The meeting today with Bruno DIDIER and Philippe CHIVOT (les maires-adjoints) from the municipal government went extremely well. We spent almost 2 hours talking about the status of broadband development in the village and the best ways to move forward with a fiber project.

There were a number of key issues and developments:

  • The new, upgraded exchange is due to be built early next year

    This is a huge development and is tied to a EUR 50'000 investment by the municipality. The deal is rather complex as I understand it. France Telecom owns the land where the exchange will be built but our local government will pay for the construction of the new building/shelter. After 20 years the building will be deeded back to France Telecom.

    I was never very happy with this arrangement but luckily the papers have not been officially signed and approved. This is excellent news. One of the key points of our discussion in the meeting was how to restructure elements of the deal to accommodate fiber rollouts.

  • Competitive operators likely are coming

    The new exchange will be built to accommodate competitive operators and from the look of it there are some who may be interested in coming with their own equipment. Obviously there are no "done deals" yet but this would be a good sign if it turns out to be correct.

    Operators would install their own DSLAMs for DSL (and hopefully FTTH equipment at the same time) when the exchange opens. For the residents in my area that means DSL speeds at 400 meters, instead of 4500 meters. Others farther up and away from the exchange won't be so lucky but there is a bit of geography in our favor as well. Generally the farther you get from our exchange the more expensive the homes become. That means the most expensive lines would be installed to the most expensive houses where residents could pay more for the installation. All operators already have a fiber presence which passes through the exchange using the Yvelines Numériques backbone.

  • We are all islands (private residences)

    It turns out that St Nom La Bretèche is different than many other French towns because we are largely made up of islands of private residences (where the roads are owned and maintained by the residents). This set-up actually makes rolling out fiber easier because the conduit in each of these private residences belongs to the residents, not France Telecom. The challenge is linking these various islands together by crossing streets or through France Telecom's conduit - and then back down to the exchange.

    We talked about ways to facilitate "bridges" (conduit) between these islands (subdivisions) and the municipal government seems very ready to help. I asked for a list of any proposed work on roads ahead of time so that we could put in manholes and conduit across streets between these "islands" whenever there was work planned.

    The really good thing about the island approach is that each private residence will only have to build out to the nearest "fibered" island and not all the way back to the exchange. it will take some planning to ensure we have enough fibers passing through each residence to ensure point-to-point connections back to the exchange but it is possible.

  • Ensuring the new exchange is "fiber-ready" and open to competition

    As long as the village is going to be footing the bill to build the exchange for France Telecom why not insist on including space for an optical distribution frame which becomes the property of the village? That is one of the nice things about the government paying EUR 50'000 to build something for a private company. They have bargaining leverage. If France Telecom were against the idea the municipality could simply take the 50'000 and build their own public fiber exchange right next to the copper one instead.

    We spent some time talking about the details of what the municipality should require in the deal and I promised to get some feedback from experts in the Netherlands. I'll post their responses.

I left the meeting very excited for the project. The next step is contacting the competitive operators (with the help of the municipality) about putting a workable fiber plan into action.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Broadband subscriptions = 2, Internet connections = 0 / Abonnements a l’Internet à haute vitesse = 2, Connexions a l’Internet = 0

I've been trying to post all weekend but neither of my two Internet connections is working. I subscribe to both DSL and cable to ensure that this doesn't happen but both connections have been out for days.

  • Cable via Numericable: Our cable connection at home works less than 50% of of the time. It's a 30 Mbps connection so it's fast for buying iTunes content when it is working. It's so unreliable though that I keep the computers connected to the stable but slow DSL instead. Over the past few days uptime has been less than 5%. Numericable ran a number of tests (while I paid for a EUR 20 mobile call to tech support) and they'll send someone to check it next Saturday.

  • DSL via This is the real disappointment in terms of customer service. We use this line (essentially 1 Mbps) for almost everything because it has been reliable. It is our main fixed line telephone as well. The modem stopped synching on September 24th at around midnight. Free said they couldn't send someone to check it until October 7th - nearly 2 weeks later. That means our fixed line phone is down until then. The last time this happened our connection was out for 3 weeks because of a problem at the DSLAM.

Broadband operators really need to be better than this. We rely on these connections too much to have them stop working for weeks at a time. It makes me nervous to be a dark fiber provider which partners with an ISP because I don't want the residents coming and throwing their modems through my windows if their phones stop working for three weeks.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Preparing to meet with the Mayor's cabinet / La préparation pour une réunion avec les Maires-Adjoints

I called the office of our Mayor (Manuelle WAJSBLAT) last week to ask for an appointment to speak with her about fiber. There are a couple of things I wanted to talk about.
  1. The status of France Telecom's upgrade of our exchange
  2. The need for a small space next to the exchange (which the village owns) for fiber termination equipment
  3. The plan eventually to extend our network to other residences
  4. Coordinating fiber planning with any civil work in the village
Her office called me back to set up a meeting for today with the heads of two municipal commisssions (les maires-adjoints).

  • Bruno DIDIER
    Urbanisme, Environnement, Développement économique, Transports, Sécurité
    (Urbanism, environment, economic development, transportation and security)

  • Philippe CHIVOT
    Travaux, Entretien du Patrimoine, Marchés Publics, Ordures Ménagères
    (Work, maintaining historical elements, public works and trash collection)

Before the meeting I spoke with a friend of mine who had a similar post in another city government and he gave me some key things to focus on for the discussions. He told me how it is important to focus on the benefits to everyone involved - the users, the businesses and even the political leaders.

I realized as I was going through my speaking points that there are some huge benefits for a village with fiber. First, it will add value to our homes at a time when people are worried that their house values are falling. We'd also move from having some of the worst connections in our department to having the best. We could also take advantage of the regional network backbone investments put in place by our department which have been, so far, underutilized. Finally, symmetric connections for telecommuting could help ease traffic congestion, improve business traffic for local merchants and help the environment. Those are some big social benefits.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Residence Picnic / Pique-nique de la residence

Today was the annual residence picnic with our neighbors. We were excited to go to get to know people better and also to talk a bit about the fiber project. Turnout was good from the stand-alone homes but I didn't get to meet anyone new from the apartments. FTTH handout for the residence

I prepared a handout in French (PDF here) to give to each family telling them the status of the project and the next steps. There was overwhelming support from the people I spoke with.

The status report lays out the two main steps of the project:

  1. Installing fibre to each house/apartment in the residence
  2. Obtaining a connection between our residence and the local exchange

I also explained the four things I'm going to need from the residents:

  1. A place to install an ODF or manhole for aggregating the connections
  2. Access to the existing conduit in the residence
  3. One-time access to their garage to install/terminate the fibre.
  4. An idea of how many homes would be willing to change providers to fibre once we attracted an operator

Item #4 actually got me the most questions. People wanted to know whether we would all have to subscribe to the same operator or if they would have a choice among operators when switching to fiber. I had to answer that we'd likely start with one operator but that the plan is to offer the fiber lines to any operator willing to connect with us. My goal is for households to be able to choose from a number of different fiber providers using the same line but we probably will need a larger (i.e. expanded) subscriber base before multiple providers would be willing to participate. That means initially it would probably be a "first-in takes all" scenario.

The update letter explained that we would probably need 80% of homes committing to switch if we wanted to attract an operator to build out to us. Otherwise, we'd likely have to pay ourselves to build back to the exchange in step 2.

One of the residents suggested I organize a meeting to answer questions. It wouldn't be an official meeting of the residence but rather something informal where they could ask questions. I think it's a good idea and I'll set it up.

Two steps behind - Deux pas derrière

Talk about missed opportunities. This is the residence just next to ours which dug up their sidewalks this week - without putting in any new fiber or conduit. It is really too bad we are not better coordinated in our village because this is one of the next two residences I wanted to target for expansion of our own network.

Neighboring residence - sidewalk work without fibre

They do have existing conduit which we could probably use but this would have been an opportune time to put in a telecommunication chamber (hand hold) as well.

I'm going to try and schedule a meeting with the mayor soon so we can get an idea when these projects are going on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

One step behind - Un pas derrière

I walked past the spot of my preferred aggregation point this morning on the way to work and saw workers getting ready to redo the surface of the parking area. It's too bad I didn't know about it because it would have been an excellent time to drop in the box.
Repaving - without our box

It's not too bad though because I still don't know who owns that particular parking spot I wanted to use and whether they would have let me put the box there. Also, I started wondering how I would be able to tap into France Telecom's box which was in the middle of the public street. It may be better for me to simply move one "hop" back onto onto the communal property and put the box there.

Still, it highlights one of the difficulties of planning a network like this. It is difficult to coordinate work.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Perfect aggregation point? Or not. - Un point d'agrégation parfait? Ou pas.

I probably made a number of neighbors nervous yesterday walking around with my map and GPS in hand trying to locate hand holes in their property from the sidewalk. However, the exercise helped me decide on the area were I think it would be best to place the aggregation point. I found it at the bottom of the residence, right next to the small shops and across the street from the France Telecom trunk conduit. initially looked for a place to install an ODF because it allows faster access to the connections and seems to be easier to add connections if we expand outside our residence. I was interested in an ODF from Pacific Interconnections, LLC in the US (see photo). However, I quickly realized I'd take a big risk putting an outdoor ODF in an area of the residence which has lots of delivery trucks.

I'm probably more sensitive to trucks backing up in the residence because we came home from vacation this year and someone had backed into our car parked on the street. The paint from the vehicule that hit us was green and high up on the car - leaving the police to assume it was a rather large truck. The damage to our car was expensive to fix but nothing like trying to repair a damaged ODF. That's why I think it may be better to have a splice enclosure in a hand hole in the street.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think the best place would be next to hand hole 021 on my distance map. I took pictures of the spot this weekend (see below).

Possible aggregation point - in parking by silver car The road with the existing France Telecom boxes (shown to the left) belongs to the village, not our residence. That means it would be much more complicated to get permission to dig and install our own boxes. However, the land with the cars parked on it is part of the residence. This parking area is in fairly desperate need of a renovation and would be an excellent spot to pass off the residence connections into France Telecom's own conduit. Possible hand hole spot, on left in front of silver car

The nice thing about the hand hole in the two pictures is that it's one "hop" away from the main conduit which goes down 330 meters to the exchange. I would like to put our hand hole in front of the silver parked car in the picture.

The only catch is the parking spots are actually owned by individual tenants in the residence, not communally. That means I'd need to get permission of the owner to put in the box. I'm not quite sure how or if that would work.

The residence DOES own the road in front of the white garages (in the middle-left picture) if the parking spot doesn't work out. There are two FT hand holes there as well which could provide easy access. In that case I'd look at putting the hand hole next to waypoint number 020.

Finally, I inserted another waypoint out at the exchange to do the calculations for Part 2 of the project, going from the residence to the exchange (see below).

Distance calculations - residence to the exchange

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Topology and layout ideas / Idées pour la topologie

I had lunch with Vincent MONVILLE again this week and we talked about some of the fiber details of the project. I was interested in his estimate of installation costs (to see if I've set aside enough) but he explained that first I had to decide exactly how I was going to distribute and split off each connection. Only then would it be possible to get a better grasp on the prices.

He was right so I took out my trusty Garmin GPS III Plus and marked all the handholes specified in the France Telecom map. That allowed me to get a pretty good estimate of the distances from each handhole back to the main aggregation point for telephone lines in our residence.

Handhole distance from aggregation point

Here are the numbers I came out with.

  • Total length of all fiber pair segments to the handhole (handhole to aggregation point): 3934 meters
  • Total length of all fiber pair segments to the house (generous estimate of home/apt to aggregation point): 4719 meters
  • Average loop length to handhole: 79 meters
  • Longest loop length to handhole: 220 meters
  • Shortest loop length to handhole: 19 meters

  • Best aggregation point: In the street next to waypoint #021
Distance from each house to aggregation point

I figure the best way to distribute the 50 lines is using some sort of microconduit within the existing conduit in the street. That way the line would be protected at the split-off points. I'm not sure though so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

UTOPIA Speed Update / UTOPIA Nouvel essai de vitesse

In July I posted about the slow speeds I found when testing a UTOPIA connection. Ben, one of the roommates in the house, wrote and said the slow result was likely the due to the groom's slow computer which I used to run the test.

Ben kindly ran a new speed test using his computer and Google's new Chrome browser (which gave better results than both IE and Firefox). His new results are much better and show the line is producing high speeds.


I was impressed with the high upload speed, particularly because it was better than the download side.

Next Steps: Business formation / Etapes prochaines: formation de l'entreprise

  1. Get an attestation of the original funds blocked in the bank (completed)

    The bank sent me an attestation today which shows that I put EUR 1000 into an escrow-type account for setting up the business. I need this to move forward with the business registration and it's called a:


    It essentially says that the bank has the money and a copy of the statuts of the business.

  2. Registering the business information with the tax authority

    Now that I have the attestation showing the funds are blocked away the next step is submitting the business registration to the tax authority. They need a copy of the "Status" of the business. This is an 18 page document that my friend (an attorney here in France) helped me prepare. It describes the nature of the business and sets up the framework of the business.

    They put a stamp on the original statuts when I register them.

  3. Register with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry

    The next step (as I understand it) is taking the information to the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Once they have the necessary documents they give me the business license, called a "Kbis" here.

  4. Return to the bank with the stamped "statuts" and the Kbis to create a real bank account

    Once I have both the Kbis and the stamped statuts I can open up a real bank account and start doing business.

Now, I'm no lawyer and I'm still a bit in the dark about how this registration system works. I'll update this page if I have any new (or improved) information though.

There is one thing I do plan on doing to learn more about the process. The Versailles Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a free seminar once every month where people starting businesses can go and learn about setting up a business in our area. I plan on attending the one on October 14th if possible.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Appointment with the bank - Rendez-vous à la banque

I made an appointment for next Saturday to open up a dedicated bank account - one of the key first steps to starting a business here in France. The bank told me they need four things from me.
  1. Projet de statuts (official paperwork for the business)
  2. Pièces d'identité (Proof of identity like passport or resident card)
  3. Justificatifs de domicile (Proof of residence from the town)
  4. Dépot du capital (Initial capital for the business to be put in the account)

A good lawyer friend was really helpful with the paperwork for the projet de status but it is taking me a bit longer than I had planned to gather up all the paperwork - including proof of marriage. I will likely pay someone to handle all the paperwork once I have everything checked off the list.

France Telecom: map of the conduit - France Telecom: Carte des fourreaux

Conduit Map (St Nom) I came back from the US this month and my neighbor had a big surprise waiting for me. He had called France Telecom to get more information about the conduit in the residence and to request a map.

He presented it to me at the door the day I got back. It's great. Now I can see where I need to put my own aggregation point (bottom right of the communal property) in order to get back to the exchange in the most efficient way.

There is, however, still some confusion over who actually owns the conduit. My neighbor was able to dig up some information from the original builder but it is information already had (Article 14: Passage de Canalisations). It is fairly clear that even if we don't own it we have a right to have the communal antenna (RF over fiber on the second pair) in the conduit.

He gave me the name of his contact at France Telecom and I'll follow up with him this week.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slow speeds sting UTOPIA FTTH - Une vitesse réduite gêne des abonnements de UTOPIA

Utopia-BoxI'm in the US for a wedding in Portland and I helped the groom move his things out of his current house in Utah this week. I found out he had a UTOPIA FTTH connection so I asked him if I could take a look. I snapped this picture of his installation in the basement and I was excited to try out the connection.

Luckily he had given me some warning so I wasn't too disappointed. It was very slow and I was unable to get more than 3 Mbit/s download from to an ISP in Utah. Sure there are a lot of factors at play with these speed tests but it did get me thinking. UTOPIA (and iProvo) face some serious challenges and it will be very difficult to convince consumers to switch to fiber if the offers and services aren't better than the one I tried with UTOPIA. In fact, it took us over 10 minutes to upload the pictures I took of the installation to a mail account. The ISPs need to do much better than that if they want these rollouts to obtain high penetration rates and cover their costs.

Now contrast this US FTTH deployment with an apartment LAN fiber test I did in Korea the month before using Powercom. I was able to achieve 12 Mbit/s down and 20 Mbit/s upstream all the way to the server in Japan on a Sunday afternoon (screenshot below).
I believe the only way to make FTTH projects viable is to offer fast enough speeds to differentiate the offers from DSL and Cable. Sadly, UTOPIA didn't have to stretch too far to outshine cable and DSL but the service I saw wasn't even able to do that.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Residents association meeting 2008 - La réunion de l’association 2008

Last night was the resident association meeting and it went well. As always, there were some crazy, heated moments but there seems to be a new consensus that everyone will pay to redo the roads and sidewalks. Part of the impetus is that the value added tax in France on these projects is 5.5% now but will jump up to 19.8% after next year. That means we would had to pay more for the same work after that.

The road work comes out to be EUR 3200 (USD 4800) per house and less for the apartments. It makes the additional cost of a fibre rollout at the same time seem pretty small. At one point the engineer was explaining how they would dig the road and re-install the electrical conduit in the roads to reach the lamp posts. One of the older residents raised her hand and asked where the fibre optic conduit was going to be put! I was thrilled because she was looking forward to it.

I spoke up and explained that we will likely use the existing conduit but may need to cross streets with new conduit in certain places. That can be done at the same time they are doing the road work. I have very little time left (only 2-3 months) to get things ready before we vote officially on the road work. I need to have a proposal ready for them before the vote and I'm translating a handout right now which I'll pass out to all homes in the next week or two. I'll post the handout shortly.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Progress Report (May 2008) - Rapport sur mon progrès

Just a quick progress report. I've been quiet about the project for the previous few months but I'm still pushing forward.

  1. Funds
    I should have most, if not all the money set aside that I need to run fibre to all the homes in the residence using the existing conduit. I'm planning on installing point-to-point connections to each home and terminating them in small box inside each garage. The future service provider will only have to run their own cables from the box in the garage to the modem in the house when they do their initial install.

    We added a bit more to the fund last month when we bought a newer used car and sold our old one. I put the money from selling the old one directly into the fiber pot. We didn't get much but I figure it will be good enough to fiber one or two homes.

  2. Registering the company in France
    This step has been a real killer. I don't think the process is very complicated but there are legal terms and ideas that I don't understand well. We had a lawyer friend's family over this evening and he helped me go through the application and fill in the parts I was missing. In summary, I'm going with an SARL and will elect to collect and pay VAT because it's worthwhile to not have to pay VAT myself when we install the network. I've also decided to pay someone to set up the company for me given my workload at my day job. I spoke with my lawyer friend and he's arranging to have someone take care of it for not much more than it would cost if I did it myself.

  3. Elections
    There's a new mayor in town and her party complained about broadband at some point during the election. As soon as the company is registered then I'll make an appointment with her and talk about the planned civil works in town. I want to be putting my own infrastructure in every time someone comes along and digs up a road.

  4. Installation
    I've left several messages with Draka Comteq here in France but haven't received a response about them possibly doing the installation. I have the money ready and now I need to find a company with expertise who can install the fibre through the existing conduit in the residence. I not too worried that they haven't called back since I can contact them more formally once I have the company completely set up.

My lack of posts doesn't reflect diminished interest in the project. Indeed, I think now is a better time than ever to put fiber down. Plus, I'll need it in the future when I ask my job if they'll let me telework a day or two a week.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Upgrading the exchange? / Travail sur notre NRA?

I was doing some research for work on Neuf/Cegetel today and decided to use my phone number as a way to look at the current offers. The site churned for a few seconds and then left this message:
Ligne en maintenance technique France Télécom a lancé une opération de maintenance sur votre ligne. Cette opération vise à déplacer la terminaison physique de votre ligne dans un autre central téléphonique. Lorsque cette opération sera achevée, d’ici une à six semaines, vous pourrez connaître les offres haut débit disponibles sur votre ligne. Nous regrettons cette situation et vous encourageons vivement à revenir tester l’éligibilité de votre ligne dans les prochaines semaines.
In English:
Line undergoing physical maintenance France Telecom has started maintenance work on your line. This operation will change the physical termination point of your line to another telephone exchange. Once this operation is completed in 1 to 6 weeks, you will be able to find out which offers are available on your line. We regret this situation and encourage you to come back and test the eligibility of your line in the next few weeks.
This could be really good news if France Telecom is actually moving our lines back to the exchange in our village. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, we have a France Telecom exchange roughly 500-600 meters from our house but it does not support residential ADSL. It's a small exchange and they've used it essentially to serve business customers. That means that all residential ADSL lines connect to exchanges in neighboring villages which are 4-5 km away - leaving us with very slow broadband.

Our previous mayor struck a deal with France Telecom where the village paid EUR 50,000 directly to France Telecom to upgrade the exchange so people could subscribe to "at least 8 Mbit/s". I thought it would take them a long time to pull off - and we will see. However, the fact that Neuf notified me that the work is in progress makes me think that we could have significantly faster DSL rather soon. This would allow us to finally take advantage of the TV over ADSL packages that many of us are already paying for in our triple-play packages.

Ramifications for the FTTH project:
I'll be the first to say that upgrading our exchange will be great for everyone in the village. At the same time, it may make it a bit difficult to convince people to shift to FTTH. It's a lot easier to sell when people have terrible connections but this just means we'll need to educate people a bit more about the benefits of open-access fiber. I'll still go ahead and put in the fiber in the residence. It may also be an opportune time to talk with the competitive operators before they being installing their own equipment (DSLAMs) in the upgraded exchange.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Conduit photos - Photos des fourreux

Concrete box / garage This photos shows one of the original concrete boxes in front of the garage of a house in the residence. This photo gives a good idea of the distance between the box and the house. The conduit typically runs between the box in the driveway and the floor of the garage.
Inside concrete topped box - not clean This box has a concrete top and has not been cleaned. It has many more cables than the other concrete boxes I've seen because it takes one aggregated cable and splits it out into six different phone lines. The orange conduit at the top of the screen takes the large (thick) white cable out to the telecom cabinet on the street. This cabinet then splits it out to individual lines which come back through the same orange conduit and head out to individual homes.
Metal France Telecom cover on box / garage The box shown in this photo had a new cover put on last year by France Telecom. It is closer to the home than most other boxes in the residence.
Inside metal topped FT box - clean This box was cleaned out in 2007. The large conduit going from left to right runs parallel to the street and connects box to box. The small 40mm conduit at the top runs between the box and the home. The light cords are telephone and the dark black cords are the old coax cables from a common antenna.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rules regarding conduit in our residence - (Article 14: Passage de Canalisations)

Today my neighbor passed on something he found that talks about conduit in the terms of our resident association. I was also able to locate it again in the papers we received from the notary when we bought our house.

The document is called the "Cahier des Charges du Lotissement et Association Syndicale" in French and my copy is dated 14 October 1970. Article 14 deals with the conduit in the residence.

Article 14: Passage de Canalisations

Les propriétaires de chaque lot seront tenus, sans indemnité, ni pouvoir s’y opposer, laisser passer dans leur sol ou sur leur lot, tous conduits nécessaires ou utiles a l’un quelconque des autres propriétaires pour l’alimentation ou le service de ses bâtiments, ainsi que pour les raccordements aux antennes collectives de radio-television (deux au total).

Dans chaque lot pourront passes des réseaux souterrains utilises au profit de l’un ou l’autre des lots.

Les occupants ne devront au droit de ces réseaux ni construire ni planter de végétations a racines longues susceptibles de les détériorer.

Le ou les propriétaires bénéficiaires de ces canalisations, réseaux et autres conduits seront tenus de remettre en état, a leurs frais, les lots qui auraient eu a subir des dégradations (tranchées par exemple) du fait de la mise en place, de l’entretien ou de la réparation des canalisations, réseaux ou autres conduit ce dessus vises.

The section starts by saying that the lot owners must allow the installation of conduit in their lots for the delivery of services. This includes a common antenna for radio/television. I understand the second paragraph to say that networks are allowed to run through the lots of any owner for the benefit of any of the lot owners. It goes on to say that the owners can't put bushes over the manholes or plant vegetation with long roots that could deteriorate the conduit.

I'm no lawyer but I understand the whole article to say that we should be allowed to run the fiber through all the conduit regardless of whether the lot owners approve or not. I'm not sure why they would actually object to another line in an existing conduit they'll never see. It is also interesting because the common antenna for radio/television isn't in use anymore (although pieces of it remain in the conduit) but some operators are installing a second fiber in their rollouts and using it to broadcast RF radio and television. It could be a way to justify the rollout legally if it ever came down to that.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Conduit map of our residence - La carte des fourreaux dans notre résidence

StNom-ConduitMap I was able to pull a great map of the residence off of the French site: this morning. It's a government site where you can put in your address and they give you a map of your area with the official information about the lots in the area. After printing a copy, I went out early this morning looking for manholes to mark.

I noted them all down on paper and then updated the digital map with all the box locations using Skitch. The blue circles on the map are original boxes and the red diamonds are the same boxes but with a France Telecom cover. Finally there were a few other boxes and I didn't know what exactly they were so I marked them with triangles. I may have missed a few boxes because I didn't want to go snooping in people's yards but I'll try to fill them in tomorrow.

Most of the boxes are really old and are made of concrete. I assume they were put in when the homes were initially built. Today an older resident told me the homes were first sold in 1971 so Zed's comment about the ducts belonging to the residence are probably correct. However, some of the boxes have fallen apart over time and they've been replaced with new France Telecom boxes. One of my friends in the neighborhood had France Telecom replace their box in the driveway this past year. I'll try and talk to him tomorrow to see how that worked and why France Telecom put in their own branded box.

I ran into a couple of residents while I was looking for the boxes and they all seem pretty excited about the prospect of better connections via fiber. I'm going to send off my application for the company (SARL) to my friend who is a lawyer tomorrow to have him look over before submitting the application next week. That will then allow me to contact the operators directly.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Breakthrough: Who owns the conduit? - Qui est la proprietaire des fourreux?

I stayed after the FTTH Council Meeting ended to talk to with some vendors about equipment and a friend introduced me to ACOME, a French infrastructure company which does fibre, conduit, etc. They were all getting ready to celebrate the end of the conference - unpacking the champagne from the back room of their stall - but were nice enough to talk with me and give me some advice.

I was interested in the costs of conduit and fibre but the person I spoke with (Arnaud PARIZET) wouldn't discuss anything more than whether there were existing ducts in my residence that I could use and if those ducts still had any sort of pull cables. I pulled out my computer and we took a look at the photos I posted earlier when we opened up one of the boxes.

We couldn't see much on the screen but I left the exhibition thinking that I needed to gather a bit more information. I was also very glad to see the comment from Vincent giving a bit of information about sharing ducts. It means there is still a possibility of using existing ducts and conduit for all the fibre runs - particularly all the way to the exchange which would reduce the EUR 40,000 estimate for that installation.

The breakthrough happened last night when I went home and is thanks to my wife leaving the parking lights on in the car by accident. I noticed them when I walked in the door but forgot to go back out and turn them off. One of the long-time residents drove by, pulled over his car and rang the doorbell to tell us the lights were on. He is the person who helped me open the cover of the box in his driveway to take the picture so I explained where I had been during the day and said I wanted to open up the box again this weekend and take another look to see if there was space.

That's when he said there would be plenty of space because we could simply take out the cabling inside that is no longer used for an old shared antenna in the residence! I hadn't even considered that. Apparently all the houses were connected to one centralized antenna perched somewhere in residence. However, he said that antenna was taken down in 1991 but the cables were all left in the existing conduit - the same one used by France telecom! That's great news for a number of reasons. First, it's not clear to me anymore that the conduit is even France Telecom's to begin with in the residence if there is a second set of cables for the old antenna system inside. That means we may not need permission to put our own fiber in. Second, those cables are no longer used so we could probably pull them out when we install the fiber. In some cases they could probably act as the pull cable as well!

This is great news and I'll go and take a new look inside this weekend and post the results.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

FTTH Council Europe - Notes and advice from equipment manufacturers

I'm here at the FTTH Council Europe meetings in Paris and it has been great because there are all sorts of equipment operators who can answer my questions about the rollout. I've been here with my day job but was able to stop by vendor booths over lunch.
  • The opening session had the CEOs of Free, Neuf/Cegetel and Numericable in addition to the head of Orange's FTTH project. They discussed a lot of issues but at one point someone in the audience asked whether the operators were interested in connecting suburban areas with FTTH. The CEO of Neuf/Celegtel Michel PAULIN was honest and said, "We have no plans to go out there. It's not cost effective". I don't think the operators plan on coming anytime soon.
  • I ran into the CEO of a conduit company (GM PLAST) whom I had met in Iceland a few years ago. We talked for a minute about the project and he mentioned that they may have some conduit I could buy cheaply that they couldn't sell otherwise because it has the wrong printing on it, etc. That's good news considering I don't need much. In speaking with all the conduit providers, microconduit seems to run between EUR 2-5 per meter - depending on a range of factors. That helps give me an idea of costs.
  • I also spoke with Corning Cable Systems and they were very helpful about suggesting the most cost-effective way to rollout for my case. They said that microconduit is the best way to go and that I should connect everyone at the same time. They have solutions that allow operators to quickly add new subscribers but that's not what I'd need. After talking with them I see better how I should connect the fiber within the homes as well.
  • Iit seems as if France Telecom has now made an offers for access to ducts in the previous few weeks. I'll look that up and see if it could apply in our case given we have space in the ducts going through the residence.
  • On the other hand, there is an issue of getting OUT of the box in the driveways and into the homes. I spoke with Radius and they said that drilling out of the box to the house wouldn't be that difficult. That's also good news.
  • KPH talked about something interesting in NL about raising awareness for FTTH. They gave little little flags to people who signed up to put in their lawns. It raised awareness and allowed neighbors to ask why their neighbors hadn't signed up yet. We don't really have fronts lawns but it was an interesting idea.

It has been very interesting and helpful in my planning.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Existing conduit - Foureaux existant

One of my neighbors came over to my house the other day and asked if I wanted to come open up the box in driveway to take a look at the existing conduit in the residence. The good news is the France Telecom conduit in front of most of the homes in the neighborhood. Each drop box seems to service one or two homes.

There is also plenty of space in the conduit running between boxes. When we looked in there was a lot of dirt but the cables themselves took up only a small fraction of the entire space in the tubes.

If we were able to make use of the existing conduit I can still see a problem. I don't know exactly how we would be able to get from the inside of the box out to each home. There are lines going out to each home but I figure we'd probably need to dig something new ourselves. This could pose problems as well because most of the drop boxes are in driveways.

Existing conduitTelecom box

It's certainly a possibility to consider - assuming that we could get permission from France Telecom.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Starting a business in France / Commencer une entreprise en France

One of my good friends is an attorney here in Paris and I asked him for some help setting up an official company. I need to work through a company in order to do digging or provide telecommunication services. He sent me a template for registering a business here in France and it has been a huge help. He has done work for telecommunication firms in the past so he kindly filled in some of the telecom-specific areas.

His recommendation is to set up the business as a "société à responsabilité limitée" or SARL. This is comparable to a "limited liability corporation" (LLC) in the US. I'll base the company out of our house to begin with.

I've heard that the process of registering a business isn't too difficult here in France but I have waited to do it because it seems a bit daunting to a non-native French speaker. Once I have the process underway I'll put together a template and make it available on the site for others. I'll keep notes of the process as well and post them so someone else could mimic this easily.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Numbericable's 100 Meg set-top box / Numericable modem de 100 Mega

I got home from work on Monday evening to find our new set-top box from Numericable. I was excited to install it and test the speeds. The television portion of the connection works just fine but the Internet does not. The modem does not assign me an IP address with DHCP. I had an external address momentarily and I was able to ping but it disappeared after a power cycle never to be seen again. I am unable to register the MAC address of the box for normal connectivity without an initial connection.

I called Numericable 4-5 times yesterday (spending roughly EUR 10) without ever getting through to support. They put you on hold at EUR 0.34 per minute and then finally tell you to call back later or the line simply disconnects after 5-6 minutes of waiting. Interestingly, EUR 10 is the addition cost per month to have this triple-play package versus a simple data connection.

The most interesting thing for me was the lack of documentation that came with the box. You have to put in the village "frequency" but there was no listing or pamphlet that came with the modem giving frequencies by zip code. Luckily I knew where to find it on the Numericable site because I'd seen it before. I was also lucky to have my backup ADSL connection to use.

Finally, I upgraded to a triple-play plan with video, data and voice but there is no RJ-11 phone jack on the set-top box and no documentation. I wonder if this means I need to keep my old modem connected somewhere else in the house to use the RJ-11 jack it had.

If I've had this much trouble setting up a simple connection I can only imagine what this must be like for people who don't work in this field.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Broadband reliability / Fiabilité de broadband

I've always assumed that one of the main drivers for fiber connections would be telework. Benoît Felten has a wonderful piece this week on Fiberevolution about how FTTH facilitates telework and how that, in turn, would have a key impact on the environment. I absolutely agree.

However, this will only happen if fiber is more reliable than current cable and DSL connections. Case in point, my cable modem connection (via Numericable) starting blinking in and out of service for a few days before losing the connection altogether. During my EUR 7 call to Numericable they tested the line and couldn't reach my modem so the problem was on their end. However, they also said they couldn't send someone out to look into the problem for at least one week. This is why I pay for both a DSL and cable connection at home. When one goes out I can quickly jump on the other.

The telecommunication world has long used statistics on the number of PSTN line faults and how long it takes operators to fix those faults once they've been notified. In the monopoly days, a week-long wait wasn't uncommon. However, now most PSTN faults are restored within 24 hours. It seems therefore that we are still be in the early stages of broadband development and operators treat residential connections as luxuries to users, rather than necessities. Until that mindset changes teleworking can't be a viable option for most users.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Slow broadband is becoming political in St Nom La Bretèche /L’Internet a haute vitesse devient plus important a St Nom La Bretèche

Happy new year.

I went out to my mailbox today and found a newsletter we receive in the village. It's called "La Parole est aux listes - Journal d'expression des groupes au Conseil Municipal de Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche". I always try to read through it and today I was happy to see some attention to the ADSL situations here in St Nom. In this issue the group "Saint Nom Tout Simplement" writes:

Suite à une demande pressante auprès du conseil municipal, Orange a obtenu l’accord d’implanter une antenne relais sur le terrain de football. Nous avions insiste pour qu’en échange et au préalable, la commune obtienne des engagements sur le déploiement de l’ADSL rapide dans la commune (3/4 des foyer sont aujourd’hui limites a 512 kbit/s). Malheureusement, cette facilite a été donnée sans obtenir de contrepartie pour l’accès a internet. Aussi, 4 mois plus tard, Orange revient très dominateur avec une proposition de couverture à 92% de la commune en ADSL rapide, moyennant une participation de la commune estimée a EUR 50k. Et c’est “maintenant ou jamais”. Le pouvoir de négociation a évidemment changé de coté. Quant on réalise que la seule alternative a l’internet 512k dans notre commune, c’est Noos/Numericable…, on comprend mieux l’attitude aujourd’hui intransigeante d’Orange. Dommage!

I'll try to give a quick and dirty translation into English.

Following a request in front of the Municipal Council, Orange received permission to install a relay antenna near the football field in the village. We had insisted that in exchange for permission the commune should have obtained promises that fast ADSL would be deployed in the community (3/4 of homes in St Nom are currently limited to 512 kbit/s). Sadly, the permission was granted without any accompanying promise for Internet access Also, 4 months later, Orange has come back in a very dominant position with a proposition to cover 92% of the village with fast ADSL as long as the village covers half of the cost of the upgrade estimated to be EUR 50,000. They say it is either "now or never". The negotiation power has clearly shifted to Orange. When we realize that the only other alternative to Internet access at 512 kbit/s in our village (it's Noos/Numericable), we can more easily understand Orange's intransigence.

I was happy to see that the broadband issue has been raised to all residences in St Nom through this handout. People do want better broadband. Noos/Numericable may say they are offering 100 Mbit/s but my connection has been off and on for the past 3 days and it will cost me EUR 15 to call them to report it. I'm using my backup ADSL connection for now.

I don't know what the mayor has decided about the EUR 50,000 but I hope he hasn't paid it. They will upgrade the exchange without the money, particularly if Numericable is sweetening their offer.

More importantly, there is another option. Our fiber-to-the-home plan is only for the 50 homes in our small area of the village but we could expand to other areas fairly quickly once we get a fiber line down to the local exchange. Just the fact that we're moving ahead with a fiber plan should hopefully spur Orange into upgrading their own offering here in St Nom.

I find it interesting that for not much more than EUR 50,000, the Mayor and the Municipal Council could run an open access fiber from the telecommunication exchange at the edge of the village all the way to the Mairie. From here different "residences" could tap in and access services from competitive operators over fiber. Orange should not have the bargaining power to demand village money to upgrade their own exchange. They just need some competition.