UTILITIES: Rewiring France

"For me," French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing likes to say, "France represents what is best in the world." But not, surely, when it comes to telephones. By almost any standard, France trails the rest of the major countries. It has the fewest private telephones in relation to total population (117.5 per 1,000 v. 460 per 1,000 in the U.S.), the fewest public ones (4.3 per 1,000 v. 13.9 in West Germany), and the longest waiting time for new installations (up to seven years).

Equipment is antiquated and erratic. Phones ring but the connection...