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Iliad's Xavier Niel on Why the French Pay Less Than Americans for Phone Calls

The billionaire executive talks about how the French telecom got started, his computer programming school, and opportunity in France
Xavier Niel, chief strategy officer, Iliad
Xavier Niel, chief strategy officer, IliadPhotograph by Agnes Dherbeys/International Herald Tribune via Redux

French consumers pay some of the world’s lowest broadband rates thanks to Niel’s triple-play service, Free, which has forced established operators to match its discount prices. Now, Free is moving into mobile, sending prices plunging there as well. A college dropout, the 45-year-old Niel talks about building his $8.3 billion fortune and why he set up a free school to train young programmers.

How did your company, Iliad, get started?
We created our first Internet service provider in 1993. It was a classic “garage” story. In our case it was a group of friends, starting from a little apartment in Paris. We developed our business model, and at the end of 1998 and beginning of 1999 we created Free with the desire to bring the Internet to everyone.