TOTEM, the industrial TowerCo in Europe | Interview with Gérard Caussimont, President of FIEP - TOTEM, the industrial TowerCo in Europe

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Interview with Gérard Caussimont, President of FIEP

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The two relays we have installed on your TOTEM tower allow us to alert emergency services if necessary, whether for shepherds or hikers.

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Gérard Caussimont President of FIEP

Could you describe FIEP’s activities in a few words?

 

I’ve been President of the organization and a volunteer since 1978. So, 45 years this year!

Our organization is involved both in the protection of biodiversity, especially the brown bear, and in helping shepherds by facilitating the transportation of equipment and communication for shepherds isolated in the mountains.  We also have a brand of cheese (Pé descaous) that we co-own with an association of shepherds, which allows us to develop the direct sale of this traditional Pyrenean cheese by the producers.

Our organization is also involved in raising public awareness of biodiversity through a 4-year program of activities in schools for 7 to 11-year-olds, introducing them to the entire ecosystem of the Pyrenees. We carry out about a hundred of these activities each year in schools in the Pyrenees.

Finally, to facilitate communication between shepherds and the valley (notably for safety, to notify a vet or to get advice on how to care for an animal if necessary), since 1991 we have installed radiotelephone systems, at the time on a France Télécom tower, financed by our members and private sponsors. This tower was then managed by Orange and now by TOTEM.

In 2019, we needed to replace the equipment, which was supported by the French Ministry of Ecology and the Commissariat du Massif (Pyrenees mountains commission), as well as the Fonds national pour l’aide au développement territorial (national fund for local development initiatives), which allowed us to cover most of the operating costs of the network of 22 radiotelephones.

 

Can you tell us more about the radiotelephone system you’ve installed on our tower? What are the benefits for the shepherds and their families?

 

Before the installation of our first CB radio equipment in 1983, there was no means of telecommunication between the shepherds and the valley. This network now makes it easier for shepherds to transport the equipment they need to carry out their work (especially in the remote mountains), to call for help if necessary, and to keep in touch with their families when they’re out in the pastures.

These pastures can be 1, 2 or even 3 hours away from the nearest houses by foot. Shepherds spend 3 to 4 months each year with their flocks, milking the sheep and making cheese. GSM telephony doesn’t work everywhere. The two relays we have installed on your TOTEM tower allow us to alert emergency services if necessary, whether for shepherds or hikers. A broken leg can quickly lead to serious problems, and the risk of hypothermia is high in the mountains, even in summer. Every year, we provide the local fire department with a list of cabins connected to our telephone network.

Contrary to popular belief, very few sheep are killed by bears each year, as the herds are guarded. In our area we have about 10 bears and every year 4 or 5 animals are eaten by bears. But when this happens, our radio network enables shepherds to warn the authorities so that they can come and see the damage, and then receive compensation from the state. It also enables the shepherds to communicate with each other to find lost sheep or dogs.

 

 

How have you organized yourselves to achieve this?

 

The association is organized around on-call shifts of volunteers. This means that even on weekends, someone is always available to intervene when needed. We’ve got a partner technician standing by, but most of the time it’s up to us to go get the relay and bring it to his shop in Pau to be repaired. Of course, if this results in a temporary loss of service, we make sure to inform the shepherds’ families.

Pastoralism requires the constant presence of human beings for milking in the morning and evening, and for cheese-making in between. That’s why it’s so important to have telecommunications tools that work.

 

Can you tell us more about the equipment you’ve hosted with TOTEM?

 

The equipment TOTEM hosts for us is wireless equipment. We pay a fee for the radio frequency we use. Each substation is powered by solar panels.

We modernized our equipment 4 years ago, switching from analog to digital. We provide our equipment free of charge to the shepherds. We maintain and renew the equipment on their behalf (battery change, etc.).


You inherited your relationship with TOTEM from Orange. What has changed for you since you started with TOTEM?

 

This relationship actually started with France Télécom. For years we had an excellent relationship with France Télécom. They intervened quickly, easily and managed everything for us. Then Orange took over, and a dedicated organization handled our commercial relations. The tower we have today is not the same as the one we had back then.

I’ve just received my first TOTEM invoice and I’ll be sure to pay it promptly as we’ve managed to reach an agreement.

 

TOTEM is a TowerCo committed to CSR. Is that important to you?

 

Yes, it’s important because in a way, our action helps to protect bears and mountain shepherds in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.


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Interview with Gérard Caussimont, President of FIEP