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A guide to sorting out Internet access for your property in France
Internet access is now pretty much essential to most people's lives. We have reached a point where we simply cannot live without it... or so it seems. Certainly, having access to the Internet access simplifies life and makes many things possible that would otherwise have been either impossible or extremely difficult.
Those of us who are living in the UK but seeking to purchase a French property will almost certainly do much of their searching on the Internet... indeed, this is how I found my home here in France. I just didn't have the time or the money to spend months in France viewing properties, so being able to search a site such as this one from my old home in Co.Durham made all the difference in the world to me.
If there were good reasons to have Internet access when you lived in the UK, there are many more reasons why you will need it at your French property. A lot of Brits who have made the move to France have been able to do so only because of them being able to have access to the Internet. Many jobs these days are structured so that people can work from home using the Internet, and if this is the way you work, then you can live anywhere you choose as long as you have access to the world wide web. (Jobs in France.)
Internet access is also an essential lifeline for keeping in touch with relatives and friends back in the UK... or anywhere else in the world. We can chat daily on services such as MSN, send free emails and enjoy social networking on sites such as Facebook and My Space. Those of us who find ourselves a little lost or alienated at first by our experiences as ex-pats can find others in our area who are experiencing the same difficulties, make contacts and also find essential goods and services without having to struggle with the language. Sites such as this one and Total France (www.totalfrance.com) are invaluable in this respect. Let's face it... we'd be lost without internet access.
The first thing that you have to do is to pay a visit to France Telecom. You need to have a France Telecom line installed, and to achieve this you need to take all the relevant paperwork to your nearest France Telecom shop, (Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France) or you can call France Telecom's English speaking services on 0800 364775. Even if you plan to use an alternative provider for your telephone calls and Internet, you will still need an initial connection from France Telecom.
The most common problem British people experience when they come to set up their Internet access at their French property, is that the most usual choice of package, that of Orange, whilst not inherently bad, is very difficult to set up. The instructions are complicated and when you add to this the language barrier, many people experience difficulty. Probably the best choice for ex-pats are the services provided by UK Telecom or Teleconnect, both of whom offer instructions in English, English speaking backup, and need no software to be installed.
You can feel very isolated when you first move to a foreign country, especially if you are struggling with the language (Learning French). Of course, everyone knows that word of mouth is the best way to find reliable services, but if you don't know anyone then this isn't an option for you. Don't panic, there are a number of ways that you can find English speaking services in France.
Firstly, if you do have access to the Internet (if your own connection is unusable you can normally find an Internet café in most towns of any size), there are English speaking services advertised on a number of websites. Take a look at French Property Services and Links, Total France (www.totalfrance.com) and local sites such as The Languedoc Page (www.the-languedoc-page.com). These carry adverts for businesses specifically aimed at ex-pats, and can be very helpful in many aspects. You could also take a look at the ex-pat newspapers, French news and The French Connection. Not only do these carry ads for English speaking goods and services, but everyone who advertises in them has to be registered with the French authorities, so you have a guarantee of legality too.
Yet another possibility, if you live in a place that has a high ex-pat population, are the British shops that are springing up in these areas, as not only might they have access to recommendations from customers, but also some have notice boards where local tradesmen advertise.
France differs from the UK in that telephone lines and electrical equipment, including computers and modems, can suffer strikes from electrical storms, power surges and other untoward happenings quite commonly. To avoid these problems, you should fit a surge protector at your French property, on your computer and other important equipment. Make sure that not only does the surge protector have protection for the electrical supply and all equipment plugged into it, but also that the telephone line is run through it. A basic surge protector can be bought for as little as €15 from most large supermarkets and DIY stores. The more expensive surge protectors, priced around €50-100 have the added advantage of offering a guarantee to replace any equipment damaged by a power surge whilst connected to the protector. When purchasing, check the packaging for details of what, if any, guarantees are offered with the equipment.
At the time of writing, most of France has Broadband Internet access in one form or another, although there are still rural areas that are awaiting this service or have a much slower rate of operation in comparison with more populated areas. All French cities have very high speed modern Broadband systems, with speeds in excess of eight MBit per second, some even up to 24 MBit per second. These modern systems can also offer television services though the Internet in a similar way to cable TV (Television in France and French TV). There is a website that gives excellent information on the state of Internet access and Broadband connections throughout France (in French). This is www.degrouptest.com.
If you own a French property in an area without Broadband then there is only one option open to you, Dial up Internet. Most Internet service providers offer dial up services, usually in two forms. Access Libre is without a contract and paying per minute of use, and the other is a contract for a set number of hours per month for a set fee. Watch out if you go over the set hours, as Internet use becomes 6 - 10 times more expensive and large bills come as a nasty surprise at the end of the month.
One way to speed up a dial up connection is to add a satellite download service. This requires a dish (not a TV dish) and a box to be installed. For more information have a look at www.teles-skydsl.fr. The service is close to Broadband as long as you are surfing the web and downloading files, but it is not suitable for everyone as the upload speed is via your dial up modem and therefore very slow. This isn't good for sending large emails, or linking to remote computers. Another option is a download booster, like www.onspeed.com. This simple software helps to speed up the downloading of web sites for a small yearly fee. Speed improvements are often not as good as advertised but do help to speed things up a bit.
There are a few differences that you should be aware of when arranging Internet access for your French property.
The biggest difference between France and the UK is a system called "degroupage". If you live in a French property in an area covered by this system, you can opt to have another supplier take over your telephone line, meaning that you pay all your calls and line rental to the new supplier. In most of France, though, there is only partial coverage, which means that you still pay the line rental to France Telecom but the call charges to the new supplier. There are many companies now who offer such services, and many are very good, but watch out for hidden charges, connection fees and calls priced per minute. The key is to take time to compare the packages offered, and make sure you read all the small print.
It has always been said that an Englishman's word is his bond, but this is an area that requires extra caution in France, as there is a recognised system of verbal contracts. Telephoning a supplier and asking for the service can be construed as a contract. Once you have accepted a contract, the normal term is a full year, and it can be difficult or impossible to escape if you find that you are not happy with the service. If you are experiencing problems then it is vital that you tackle the problem in the accepted French way, by writing a letter and sending it registered post (as always in France, keep a copy or two for yourself). Do not, under any circumstances, cancel the direct debit or refuse to make other forms of payment, as in doing so you could find yourself on a credit blacklist and have the monies seized from your bank account (Banking in France).
It is common, in the face of a problem with your Internet access or computer, to find yourself not knowing who you should call to resolve things efficiently. To ascertain whether the problem is with your computer or access service, you can run a couple of simple tests yourself. The first thing to check is that you have an Internet connection to the router that is working. Next check the router itself, to see if the ADSL light is on or flashing. Flashing normally indicates a problem with the connection. In this case, the call you should make is to your Internet provider, who will test the line and check that the local exchange is still transmitting an ADSL signal to your home.
If after this you are still experiencing problems, and are unable to make calls, you should contact your call provider and also France Telecom. Here, unless your French is good, you may experience difficulties as Orange Technical Support speak only French. If you are not paying France Telecom for line rental you may be told that they are unable to help. You will then need to contact your other supplier, and ask them to request that France Telecom fix the fault on the line. If you are paying France Telecom for the line rental, however, even if you pay a different provider for your calls, France Telecom are still responsible for repairing any problems with the line.
If all this sounds very complicated and perhaps even downright impossible due to lack of competency in French (it's hard enough to stand up for your rights in English let alone in another language!) there are a number of companies who exist to help. You may be able to find a local firm, such as Ma Maison (Ma Maison) in Castelnaudary (Castelnaudary Property Guide) in the Languedoc (Languedoc-Roussillon Property Guide), who will make the phone calls for you for a small fee. If you don't know anyone locally, there are companies such as Help In France (www.help-in-france.co.uk) and Oui Can Help (www.ouicanhelp.com) who will do the same thing for you.
Despite the problems outlined above, the level of service is generally very good in France, and there are some excellent packages offered, including free or cheap calls to the UK along with Broadband Internet access, modems and routers perhaps even with WiFi. Please note, however, that for some of the free packages the telephone must be connected directly to the router and not to the incoming line. This may mean that you will need to install a second telephone at your French property. Your supplier will advise in this instance.
If you are not a full time resident of France but still require access to the Internet at your French property, it might be worth looking at the Orange Internet a la Carte system. This avoids the need to pay a monthly fee throughout the year, allowing you to suspend payments when you are not in the country and restart them when you return.
Internet access is an essential tool for modern life, even if you only use it for relaxation and enjoyment. It can be frustrating and difficult when it all goes wrong, but hopefully the advice given above will make it all a little less daunting, whether you are trying to set up an initial connection or if you are trying to cope with the inevitable problems that crop up from time to time.
Additional articles which may be of interest:
Electrics in France - wiring your house
Plumbing in France
Brits in France
Thanks are due to Bruce Taylor of Mirax IT (www.mirax.org), without whom this article could never have been written. This is true not only because Bruce has supplied all the advice and information contained within, but also because he solves all my computer problems and provides excellent IT support thus enabling me to work!
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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