Back in 2014, and yes, that’s 8 years ago, I got a Fiber to the Home (FTTH) line installed in Paris. Apart from very few outages that lasted a few minutes to a few hours, the link ran pretty much flawlessly and I had a lot of fun with it. That was, until mid-December 2021, when the fiber suddenly went dark. And staid dark until May 2022! So here’s what happened and why it took so long to restore service.
Back in 2014, I didn’t really care much about the details, I was just delighted that FTTH would come to our Paris home. At the time it was SFR, one of the three telecom companies in France, that informed me that FTTH was coming to the building and made us a service offer. What I did not know at the time was, that SFR was not the company that deployed the fiber, it was just the first with a service offer in our letterbox. But I didn’t care at the time and gladly signed up. To be fair, it worked very well for 8 years. Until mid-December 2021 that is, when the link suddenly died, and the Optical Network Termination (ONT) showed a red light. We weren’t at home when it happened, so I could rule out any cable problems inside the apartment. Power cycling the equipment also did not help. As it was Christmas time, nobody was in the apartment for most of the second part of December, so I hoped service would be restored at some point.
On-Site Visit 1
Unfortunately, the line was still dark at the beginning of January, so we finally called the SFR helpline. Again, we were in and out of Paris quite often, so it took until the end of January for a technician to visit us. The lead time for the visit was over two weeks from the time we called, which I think is way too long. When the technician was finally with us, he diagnosed that the problem was not the ONT, nor the fiber line in the house, but that there was a problem in the Fiber splitting equipment in a cabinet somewhere at the roadside. Bad news: This equipment is not owned by SFR, but by Free, one of the other three telecoms companies in France. So the technician left again without restoring service.
On-Site Visit 2
Instead of SFR talking to Free, however, our support ticket was set to fixed and closed. Again, we were out of Paris for some weeks with an unknown return date, so it took a while before we could once again call SFR and open another ticket. And again, we had to wait 2 weeks for the on-site visit, which again resulted in the same result: The technician diagnosed that the problem was not in our equipment, or the line, but in the fiber cabinet outside the apartment building. And again, he informed us that he has no access to the equipment. And again, SFR set the ticket to fixed and closed without fixing the issue. Seriously!?
Bye Bye – And Thanks For All The Fish
At this point I grew a bit agitated, as no solution was being offered by SFR. To smooth the situation, they supplied an LTE Router as a temporary replacement, but they did not offer a way forward to get service restored. Opening yet another ticket with them seemed like a lost cause. So we asked around in the neighborhood and heard of similar problems. At the end, what people did, was to quit their service provider and go to Free. So after 4 months and two on-site visits by SFR, we finally decided to do that as well. Fortunately, switching FTTH services providers is relatively painless in France, and a few days later, we got the new fiber router. Getting it was a bit of an odyssey by itself, as we were again not in Paris for some days and for some strange reason, the router could not be picked up in a Free store, of which there are plenty in Paris. Also they did not mention during the order process which shipping company they would use, so I could not divert it to a storage box. Also, it was not possible to redirect the parcel once it was on its way. A long story with lots of things that could be improved, but I digress, we finally got the equipment.
On-Site Visit 3
Back to the telecoms part of the story: During the order process, Free informed us that they will send somebody on site to install the equipment. As the SPF fiber adapter was not part of the parcel we got, it’s likely that this is standard procedure for a new FTTH customer. As promised, the technician showed up and, unsurprisingly, also noticed that the line did not work. After checking the fiber and making a few phone calls, he informed us that there seems to be a problem in the outside splitter cabinet and that someone would go there the next day to fix it. The line should then come up automatically. Yes, we were there twice before.
On-Site Visit 4
So we waited for the the line to come-up the next day. But it still didn’t. Instead, we got a call from Free and they told us that yet another on-site visit to our apartment was required the next day. Well, at least that was not 2 weeks from now. I wasn’t there at this day so I don’t know what finally had to be done, but they finally managed to bring that fiber line up again. It just took 4 visits to our apartment.
What I find frustrating about the whole experience is that SFR was unable to motivate Free to fix things in their cabinet. At first, I was unhappy with SFR for this, but it makes me wonder who was really dragging their feet!? Does Free have an incentive to fix a problem in their fiber cabinet for an SFR customer? After all, they offer IP connectivity over their own fiber as well, so why should they make efforts to help SFR? But that’s just speculation and I would not be surprised if it was the same in reverse in areas where SFR owns the physical fibers. This shows why competition has a hard time when the company that owns the physical fiber also provides the service over it, and is pushed by regulation to also allow other companies to offer IP connectivity on top. It looks like great competition on the outside, but it’s easily sabotaged from the inside. Perhaps things would run smoother if monetary penalties were involved if company to company issue tickets are not resolved within a certain time. I don’t have insights into the French system, so I can’t really tell what was going on. All just pure speculation.
So far, so good, my fiber in Paris is up and running again, but the story is far from over. Stay tuned for follow-ups in which I will have a closer look at the new equipment and how good the IP service over the line is in practice.