French local authorities are currently doing more and more to improve their communications infrastructures, as can be seen from the figure published in January 2007 by the Association of Cities and Local Authorities for Electronic Communications: 448 million Euros were invested in public open-access networks in 2006. But what kind of initiatives are these? There are as many forms of intervention as there are local authorities, and this diversity is a good thing.
Nevertheless, digital technologies are such an important factor in people's everyday lives, in local development and planning, and in a region's competitiveness that it would be suicidal for local authorities to make commitments in this field without a great deal of prior strategic thinking, especially given the wide range of actors involved who are powerful and in competition with each other. How can the local authorities find a way, between the state (the monopoly provider in the past), the new generation of providers and the equipment manufacturers, to create local public access to very high bandwidth networks without themselves having to finance investments that should really be the responsibility of the other actors just mentioned?
Agnès Huet and Pascal Buléon offer their view of this important issue. They do not avoid discussing either the technical debates or the selfish behaviour of some of the actors who try to make the local authorities provide funding without giving them any decision-making capacity. Hardly a week passes without some spectacular initiative somewhere in the world to improve local digital access, such as the free wi-fi offered in San Francisco by Google, but it is obvious that in this race, there will be winners and losers. The authors plead the case here that the losers in France should not be the local authorities and, ultimately, the users.