Part 1

computerFrance Telecom’s monopoly of telecom services has gone in the same way as BT’s in the UK. But how do you make sure you get the best from the deregulated market? Here is the essential guide to avoiding expensive mistakes whilst getting the best value for your money and getting quality customer service.

Understanding your choices

There are three basic types of broadband – here is a brief description of each, along with the key considerations you should have to the front of your mind. I have specifically excluded professional broadband products here. If you intend to work from your French home you will not be able to claim for any lost business resulting from a loss of service if you have purchased a domestic product – you will be referred to the various business options with higher service levels and charges.

Standard Broadband

You will almost certainly be aware that this broadband service needs an active land line and runs along side of your normal voice calls. The speed of the line (how quick data can be transmitted) depends on the length of the line between your home and your local exchange. Anything more than 5km will usually mean that the speed will be less than 1/2 Mb, meaning that you cannot have broadband – and changing provider will not make any difference.

As in the UK some companies have connection and cancellation charges as well as your normal monthly service charge. Prices are high compared to the UK as there are many fewer companies offering the service. The cheapest offers may have the speed limited or they may make an exceptionally high connection charge.

Total Degroupage Broadband

This service carries both your voice calls and your broadband traffic over the ‘broadband’ spectrum of the telephone line. It is cheaper than the standard broadband service because the voice side of your line is disabled and the normal line rental cost is not payable.

All of our experience informs us that you need to have at least a 2 Mb line speed or your words will become ‘clipped’, may be lost or at worse the call can fail part way through. If reliable access to a phone is important, say for medical emergencies, you should not choose this option unless your broadband speed is at least 4 Mb.

Using a mobile phone as a back-up may not be possible as usually where broadband speeds are low you often find poor mobile reception.

This product is the cause of more complaints and customer dissatisfaction than any other service. The reason is that customers usually take it after having received an unsolicited sales call where no mention is made of the voice side of the line being disabled. The sales person, working out of a call centre and paid on commission, will not have made the speed check to ensure that the service is appropriate and you will have committed to a minimum 12 month contract with penalty charges if you cancel early.

Broadband that you can suspend

Owners of holiday homes often choose to have a ‘Ligne Residence Secondaire’ line rental from France Telecom that can be suspended whilst they are away. Until recently they could not have a broadband service that could also be suspended, however Orange, this sister company to France Telecom now have an offer called ‘La Decouverte’ at 21€/month which can be suspended in the same way. You still have to have a normal line with the usual 16€/month cost but there are no connection or cancellation charges. The speed is whatever is available up to a maximum 8 Mb.

A word of caution though! Most will agree that the Orange and France Telecom web sites are somewhat opaque and especially with this product. We have found that whilst they are prepared to suspend this type of broadband in association with a ‘Ligne Residence Secondaire’ this is usually associated with a reduction in maximum speed to limited 1Mb so do make your own checks before committing to a contract.

If you have chosen either the Ligne Residence Secondaire or the La Decouverte service you do not have to pay their high prices for your telephone calls. You can still choose to use one of the highly competitive specialist expat service providers for the English speaking market, and benefit from the enhanced customer service associated with them. This way you only pay for services used when in France.

Test Your Line Speed and Avoid any Mis-selling

If you want to avoid the risks associated with saying ‘yes’ to an unsolicited sales call first test your line yourself. It only takes a couple of minutes – simply get access to a broadband service and go to www.degrouptest.com and put in your telephone number. You will get a near instant response showing the speed of your line and with this result you can take an informed decision about the service you want.

Beware! The web site owners sell your telephone number to broadband suppliers who in turn will pass it to one of their call centres, and you may get one of those unsolicited sales calls. Be even more careful how you respond to the call! Any vagueness or even an expression of interest can result in you being signed up over the phone. As you only have 7 days to cancel your order you may not be aware of what has happened until you receive your contract in the post and your 7 days may have expired.

Getting Best Value

You will have seen examples of many unlimited call packages advertised for normal calls, and the same type of packages are available for calls over the broadband service. First though, a couple points on telephone numbers.

If you take a normal broadband service you will be given a second telephone number for calls made by connection a telephone to the back of your modem. You must use this phone to benefit from any call package purchased from your broadband supplier. Some providers such as UKtelecom include 2 hours of free calls in this way as part of their basic package. If you prefer to use an unlimited call package on your normal service because the call quality is better this will continue as normal.

The ‘Total Degroupage’ service also carries options for unlimited call packages. If you are changing to this service you may lose your original telephone number, but check with your provider as it can be retained, some requiring a small one off charge to cover the administration involved.

There is an important point to make about call packages. All the main French companies have tariffs that best suit the typical French persons call pattern. This means that the emphasis is on low cost call to local and national destinations and to French mobiles. However calls to international destinations outside of the package will be higher and calls to UK mobiles for example will be significantly higher and not included in call packages ‘including calls to mobiles’. Also they have high connection charges for calls outside of the package – so do think carefully about your own call pattern and do not be swayed by the headline price of any offer as you could find that moving from another provider results in higher costs, not lower as you might have expected.

If you are away from your home for extended periods check that you can suspend your unlimited call package otherwise all the savings you make in other months can be completely wiped out by paying for a service you are not using for weeks at a time.

Written by Bob Elliott, Commercial Director, UKtelecom Ltd
[email protected]

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