Francois Fillon, France’s Minister of Post, Telecommunications & Space, in his annual New Year greeting to the press, presented the government’s proposed interconnection decree for potential competitors to France Telecom. The text aims to guarantee objectivity, transparency and non-discrimination for all future telephony operators in France. They will be answerable to the new Telecommunications Regulatory Agency – ART, which is expected to publish its opinion on the text this month and then a catalog of interconnect tariffs. The text stipulates that the technical and financial mechanisms for interconnect that are offered to other operators, must be the same as those proposed to its own services or subsidiaries. The clause has been disputed by the union SUD, which says no private enterprise practices the same prices internally and to outside companies. The government has charged France Telecom to publish before July 1 – the European Union’s imposed limit – the techniques and prices for interconnection previously approved by ART. Apart from interconnection, Fillon said, This ministry’s biggest priority is to develop the information superhighway. We have already removed lots of legal and tax obstacles so that our country can catch up with those that been using it longer. I do not believe we have cause to fear any technological retard, only a psychological one. Fillon also commented on the French government’s levying of value-added tax at 20.6% on call-back phone services not based in Europe. He said collection of the tax would be based on a voluntary declaration by the companies concerned, in France. If they don’t make such a declaration, he acknowledged that it will be difficult to enforce. We can’t have a policeman stationed at every site, he quipped. In previous weeks, Fillon has told journalists that he was personally opposed to levying the tax, saying that the best way to beat them is just to lower our call rates. France Telecom is doing precisely that, implementing a 20% cut in March for international tariffs, and planning another of 40% later this year.