France: war of words escalates

From Sotires Eleftheriou in Paris

Orange has held a hastily organised press conference in Paris to respond to the recent attacks by other operators Vivendi and Iliad (Free). "The aim is to set the record straight", said Louis-Pierre Wenes, Orange France Deputy General Manager. "We have been subject to attacks for several weeks now, hardly surprising in such a competitive environment" he stated, adding that Orange could not nevertheless accept declarations that were untrue.

He confirmed that Orange had filed a complaint for libel against Maxime Lombardini, general manager of Free, who had stated in a press interview last week that innovation comes from brains, not from a chequebook. Free's founder Xavier Niel had also called Orange a "multi-recidivist delinquent" whose last major innovation had been the Minitel.

Reacting to his competitors' comments about the level of investment in fibre, Wenes pointed out that by the end of 2008 Orange had invested E121 million in fibre and had connected 20,000 homes, not E2 billion as had been claimed. As for investment in content, Orange had invested E1.2 billion, of which E202 million was for Ligue 1 football and E337 million for movies and production for the period 2008-11 and not per year as had been claimed.

Concerning innovation, Wenes pointed out that Orange employs 3,800 researchers in 17 laboratories, investing E900m p.a. Innovations the group had pioneered include VOD over IP, pay TV and VOD over ADSL, mobile TV, PVR via ADSL and HDTV via ADSL and HDTV on mobile and catch-up TV. He added that Orange would launch TV on the I-phone (60 channels) on April 7th, two days before its competitor SFR is to start selling iPhones.

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