Developing data driven regulation for the digital ecosystem in France: Case study on the Electronic Communications, Postal and Print Media Distribution Regulatory Authority (ARCEP)

France’s Electronic Communications, Postal and Print Media Distribution Regulatory Authority (Autorité de régulation des communications électroniques, des postes et de la distribution de la presse, ARCEP) was created on 5 January 1997. At the time, the French Parliament gave ARCEP the task of shepherding the process of opening the electronic communications sector up to competition, and so enabling new operators to emerge alongside the incumbent carrier (France Telecom, since renamed Orange), and this for the benefit of end users.

The fixed and mobile calling and internet markets have evolved a great deal since then. Operators have deployed fixed (copper, fibre optic, etc.) and mobile (2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G) networks to provide not only telephone services but also internet access. These communication networks now play a vital role in the country’s operation, and in the daily lives of the people of France. The market situation evolved considerably, as did the responsibilities of ARCEP, which were expanded to include, for instance, postal sector regulation in 2005, and the protection of net neutrality in 2015. ARCEP responsibilities were further expanded in 2016 with the Digital Republic Act and in 2019 via the Law on the modernisation of print media distribution, which reformed the “Bichet Act” and assigned the responsibility of regulating the print media sector to ARCEP. ARCEP’s goal is now to ensure that private operators’ growth trajectory and interests are reconciled with the objectives of achieving nationwide connectivity, and fair and effective competition between operators for the benefit of end users.

To meet these new challenges, ARCEP wanted to enter into a new and resolutely digital-centric cycle in its history: in 2015 it began a strategic review of its activities, entitled “ARCEP 360°”. An open, transparent and participatory process that involved all of ARCEP’s teams, as well as outside stakeholders.

At the end of process, ARCEP drew up a roadmap that defined the “causes to champion” in the coming years. It also adopted a mission statement, a brief text that seeks to define its fundamental raison d’être: “ARCEP is a neutral and expert arbitrator, architect and guardian of communications networks in France.”

In 2015, ARCEP identified that end-users did not have a sufficient role in the regulatory process that would provide them the full ability to drive competition, innovation and investment.

A study commissioned by ARCEP in 2016 revealed that information such as quality of service, coverage, etc. was considered a key driver of choice by end-users and as a crucial element of analysis for collectivities. The study further showed that these stakeholders considered that this information was neither available nor understandable enough to make informed decisions.

One of the main triggers that pushed ARCEP to take action was the heterogeneity of mobile coverage among operators. This take leaded to a willingness to create the right incentives for operators to invest.

Another illustration is the fact that users and collectivities volunteered to collaborate with the regulator and take a role in the regulation but could not find the good entry points and tools to do it, generating a frustration for them and a lack of information for the regulator.

In order to answer to these issues, ARCEP chose to develop an approach of data-driven regulation. This approach is willing to be holistic and to deploy a new form of action that comes to complete the regulator’s traditional toolkit.

The guiding principle is to harness the power of information to steer the market in the right direction.

One sort of action consists in refining the regulation tools to get able to analyse more information, on a finer level, and to detect weak signals or systemic problems in order to accelerate the regulation process and make it more efficient.

This being done, the second sort of action consists in giving more power to end-users and relay actors (public actors, associations, civil society, start-ups, etc.) with a more precise and personalised information. For example end-users have a strong power on the market, the power to “vote with their feet” and through their choices “reward” or “punish” actors on the market. Regulator can play an important role to help users to realise this potential and accompany users’ choices in order to give good incentives on the market. This approach is inspired by the philosophy of nudge promoted by Richard Thaler, the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize of economy.

This approach asks for a change of culture in the public sector. Adopting a “state as a platform” philosophy involves acknowledging that State has not the monopoly of general interest, every user, every actor can take its part of the defence of general interest and every citizen is placed in situation of playing a role in the regulation. Moreover, the state is not always the most relevant actor to better give information to users and it may be more efficient to act in a logic of empowerment of a RegTech ecosystem.

Since 2017, three main action plans have been developed by ARCEP teams in bringing regulating with data to life:

  • First, the publication of maps which provide the user with a detailed comparison of telecom network coverage and quality of service across France.

  • Then, the launch of a reporting platform named “J’alerte l’ARCEP” that gives everybody the power to report a malfunction in their relationship with their operator.

  • Finally, the roll out of “Ma connexion Internet” a cartographic search engine providing end users with internet access technologies availability where they live

This tool is very important to help users and all actors to have an easier and a better understanding of coverage and quality of telecom services in France: the idea was to convert pdf reports with nationally aggregated data into dynamic maps with locally detailed information. Doing so, ARCEP enriched the information presented to make it reflect better the daily experience of users and such, make them more able to compare and choose operators. Three tools were published until now:

The website “ presents on the same page coverage 1) maps built by operators on four levels representing users experience; and 2) quality of service measures realised by ARCEP on the transport networks and in living places. This data will soon be enriched with new ARCEP measures and with collectivities’ and partners’ data.

The website “ presents fiber coverage information on usual administrative levels and on individual buildings, and so to track the progress of Fiber to the home rollouts in a detailed fashion.

“Ma connexion internet”, in a beta version, presents a map-based search engine for monitoring national fixed network coverage for all technologies combined, at the individual address level.

The platform allows any user, whether an individual, a business or a local authority, to report a malfunction they have encountered in their relationship with their fixed or mobile telephone operator, internet service provider or postal operator. The platform has two objectives:

For the users: to create an opportunity for them to influence market regulation, to encourage operators to improve their services and further develop their networks. It also allows users to rapidly obtain advice tailored to their circumstances.

For ARCEP: to enable it to track the problems encountered by users in real time. The ability to draw on recurrent malfunctions, and detect both spikes in user alerts and weak signals to target its actions, and to be more effective in its regulatory actions.

The results of the publication of maps can be measured quantitatively. For example the website “monreseaumobile” was visited by 740 000 visitors and the website “cartefibre” by 555 000 visitors for the year 2018. More importantly, the publication of such information generated a lot of feedbacks and suggestions for improvement. This appropriation of the tools by collectivities, users, associations but also actors from the telecom sector (like small operators) demonstrated the usefulness of the tools and the need for these tools to be updated and enriched regularly.

The open data associated to these publications have been a very interesting element. By making data openly available ARCEP wanted to allow third parties to access and use them, talk about them, bring new value to them and produce relevant tools for user. This worked to a certain extend as some actors came to reuse our data for purposes that we did not identify at the beginning: to evaluate the coverage quality of transports or schools for example but also to help hikers or customers. But this approach also revealed that analysing data is not easy for general users and that if public actors want to make open data real they have not only to make data available but to develop a real strategy of publication (format, structure, interface, etc.) adapted to the different users.

ARCEP received about 90 000 alerts in three years: close to five times more than in the years preceding the launch of “J’alerte l’ARCEP”, including 71 000 posted directly via the platform.

These alerts enabled ARCEP to examine several concrete cases and identify specific issues or systemic problems that may not have been identified otherwise, or too late. To be more concrete, some specific issues can be identified instantaneously when they come up and be analysed very quickly by ARCEP's staff giving the opportunity to fix the problem with the concerned operators., Other issues are more complex and need more time to be fully identified., The resolution process is then longer and involves a thorough study with operators.

Depending on the problems encountered, ARCEP could adapt its answer: from calling the concerned operators involved in real time in order to find a rapid solution, to opening an official investigation (based on the provisions of CPCE Article L. 36-11). A report1 providing the first scorecard of the “J’alerte l’ARCEP” user reporting platform after one year of operation has been published including some analysis and examples of action generated.

In France, in July 2019 eight French independent authorities (Autorité des Marchés Financiers, Autorité de Régulation des Transports, ARCEP, Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne, Autorité de la Concurrence, Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés, Commission Régulation de l'Énergie and Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisuel) adopted a common note2 on data-driven regulation. As data-driven regulation creates the ability to make stakeholders more accountable, increases the regulator’s capacity for analysis and makes more information available to users and civil society, we collectively acknowledged that these goals are not sectorial specific. Therefore, in this dedicated memorandum the seven regulators share their common views and good practices on the use of data with other authorities and deliver an account of the progress made on data-driven regulation.

At international level, the document on mobile coverage and quality of service published at the 2019 network of French-speaking telecommunications regulators (Fratel) annual meeting worth to be mentioned. The purpose of this document is to deliver an outline of current data collection, use and publication practices. It sets out for authorities the key focal points for ensuring that mobile quality of service and coverage data are published under the best possible conditions and includes reference to some of the initiatives adopted by ARCEP as part of its data driven approach. These works will continue in 2020. In line with the theme of coverage and quality of service, the network will start work on the feasibility of an online tool on the representation of coverage and quality of mobile service in the member countries of the network.

ARCEP deems that a supervision of platforms allowed by ex ante regulation, which allows rapid intervention when necessary, before the damage materialises, would have significant advantages. This supervision should be based on a graduated approach which would propose a typology of remedies appropriate to the damage observed: monitoring of platforms, transparency of certain essential algorithms used by platforms, portability of essential data, interoperability.

In this regard, such a “data-driven regulation” could be one of the key tools to regulate digital platforms. First, it gives the power directly back to the people (not to the State): consumers, entrepreneurs, NGOs, academics. It is thus well suited for the digital ecosystem where decentralisation is more prominent. Secondly, providing more transparency might be a really efficient quick win as digital platforms are especially opaque.


← 1. ARCEP Press Release, Data-Driven Regulation, 2019,

← 2. ARCEP Press Release, Cooperation between Regulators,

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