The Minitel is an online service accessible through the telephone lines. It was launched in France in 1982 by France Telecom.

Since its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet.

Millions of terminals were handed out free to telephone subscribers, funded by the government, resulting in a high penetration rate among businesses and the public. The use was sometimes pushed heavy-handedly: France Telecom would not give paper white pages to the owners of Minitel, since they were accessible for free on Minitel. France Telecom estimates that almost 9m terminals - including web-enabled PCs - had access to the network at the end of 1999, and that it was used by 25 million people (of a total population of 60 million).

Payment methods:

  • Credit card for purchases
  • Telephone bill for surfing time: rates depend on the sites visited

France Telecom charges Minitel users, at rates of up to 1 a minute, on their monthly telephone bill. The rates depend on the service called. It then pays back part of the sum to the companies that operate Minitel servers.

In the late 1990s, Minitel connections were stable at 100m a month plus 150m online directory inquiries, in spite of growing Internet use.

In 1998, Minitel generated 832m832m ($824m) of revenues, of which 521m was channelled by France Telecom to service providers.

Minitel sales in the late 1990s accounted for almost 15% of sales at La Redoute and Les Trois Suisses, France's biggest mail order companies.

Table of contents
1 Technical
2 Minitel and the Internet
3 External Links


Minitel uses dumb terminals consisting of a text based screen, keyboard and modem.

Minitel uses the telnet network protocol to access information on a remote server. Since telnet sessions are over an end-to-end telephone line connection, the security concerns present when using telenet over the Internet are not present.

Minitel and the Internet

Minitel was often considered as an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France, since it already provides online access for many useful services without requiring a personal computer. On the other hand, some argue that thanks to the Minitel, the French are used to doing transactions online, and will embrace the Internet as it offers more value and convenience than the Minitel.

External Links

Minitel services are now available over the Internet. The scope of the service can be seen (in French) at, though access to the actual information is only available to subscribers.