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PARIS (Reuters) - The French government will act to ensure telecom operators provide decent service as they roll out cut-rate plans for new high-speed 4G broadband service, a minister for digital issues said on Sunday.
Low-cost operator Iliad this month added 4G service to its Free Mobile offers without raising the price, putting pressure on leading telecoms companies Orange, Vivendi's SFR and Bouygues Telecom to follow suit with competitive offers.
The contest has led executives to trade barbs in the media, with Orange CEO Stephane Richard accusing Iliad of compromising quality on its 4G service. Iliad is still building its mobile network and had 700 mobile antennas capable of handling 4G speeds as of December 1.
The minister, Fleur Pelleting, said the government would act to ensure that the telecom regulator Arches regained the power to enforce quality standards, after a Constitutional Court ruling that prevented it from imposing penalties.
"We are going to correct this situation in early 2014," she told Le Parisian daily. "We are going to give the telecoms policeman his stick back."
The Iliad offer has led to a price war as well as a war of words among the telecom operators. Orange said some of its customers would get 4G wireless at no additional charge, shortly after smaller rival Bouygues extended the same offer to its low-cost subscription plan.
Asked about the accusations flying among telecoms bosses, Pelleting said: "Their invective is worthy of the schoolyard, and I am not their mistress."
Pelleting encouraged mobile subscribers to consult a map of 4G coverage areas before signing on to a plan. Financial penalties will be imposed on operators falling short of their commitments, she said.
Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Larry King