PARIS (Reuters) - France's mobile telephone operators will spend more than 3 billion euros ($3.7 billion) rolling out a 4G network in black spots across the country to ensure there are no coverage gaps by 2020, according to a government minister.
Julien Denormandie, junior minister for territorial cohesion, told the weekly Journal du Dimanche that each of the major operators had agreed to install 5,000 masts and antennas and jointly ensure network coverage along 30,000 km (19,000 miles) of rail tracks.
Orange, formerly the state-owned monopoly France Telecom, SFR, Bouygues Telecom, and Iliad's Free Mobile have all been guilty of under-investing in France's mobile network during the past 15 years, the minister said.
"I want to put an end to 'The network's bad, I'll call you back'," Denormandie told the paper, published on Sunday.
Asked how much financing the state would contribute, the minister replied: "Not a single cent will come from the budget!"
French mobile users frequently complain about the patchiness of the network, lamenting that it can seem inferior to coverage in African countries where telecom companies playing catch-up bypassed fixed lines and invested heavily in mobile technology.
As of July 2017, the 4G networks of SFR, Bouygues Telecom, Orange and Free Mobile covered 74 percent, 70 percent, 69 percent and 47 percent of the population respectively in low density zones, according to the telecoms regulator Arcep.
Denormandie said the three-year rollout plan would bring 4G coverage to more than 10,000 towns and villages currently served by either 2G or 3G networks.
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(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Kevin Liffey)