Minitel 1. Built 1982

The Minitel was a Videotex online service accessible through telephone lines, and is considered one of the world's most successful pre-World Wide Web online services.

The service was rolled out experimentally in 1978 in Brittany and throughout France in 1982 by the PTT (Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones; divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste).[1] From its early days, users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and chat in a similar way to that now made possible by the Internet.

In February 2009, France Telecom indicated the Minitel network still had 10 million monthly connections. France Telecom retired the service on 30 June 2012.[1][2][3]


The name Minitel is abbreviated from the French title of Médium interactif par numérisation d'information téléphonique (Interactive medium by digitalizing telephone information).

Business model

1980 Alcatel Minitel terminal with non-AZERTY keyboard

Millions of terminals were lent for free to telephone subscribers, resulting in a high penetration rate among businesses and the public. In exchange for the terminal, the possessors of Minitel would not be given free "white page" printed directories (alphabetical list of residents and firms), but only the yellow pages (classified commercial listings, with advertisements); the white pages were accessible for free on Minitel, and they could be searched by a reasonably intelligent search engine; much faster than flipping through a paper directory.

France Télécom estimates that almost 9 million terminals—including web-enabled personal computers (Windows, Mac OS, and Linux)—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). Developed by 10,000 companies, in 1996, almost 26,000 different services were available.[4]

Minitel allowed access to various categories of services:

The development of Minitel spawned the creation of many start-up companies in a manner similar to the later dot-com bubble of Internet-related companies. Similarly, many of those small companies floundered because of an overcrowded market or bad business practices (lack of infrastructure for online retailers). The messageries roses ("pink messages", adult chat services hosted by operators pretending to be receptive women[5]) and other pornographic sites were also criticized for their possible use by under-age children. The government chose not to enact coercive measures, however, stating that the regulation of the online activities of children was up to parents, not the government. The government did however enact a tax on pornographic online services.


Payment methods

France Télécom charged Minitel users at rates of up to €1 a minute on their monthly telephone bill. The rates depended on the service called; most services were far cheaper than this maximum. It then paid back part of the sum to the companies operating Minitel servers.

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

In 1998, Minitel generated €832 million ($1,121 million) of revenue, of which €521 million was channelled by France Télécom to service providers.

Minitel sales in the late 1990s accounted for almost 15% of sales at La Redoute and 3 Suisses, France's biggest mail order companies. In 2005, the most popular Minitel application was Teleroute, the online real-time freight exchange, which accounted for nearly 8% of Minitel usage.

In 2005, there were 351 million calls for 18.5 million hours of connection, generating €206 million of revenue, of which €145 million were redistributed to 2,000 service providers (these numbers were declining at around 30% per year). There were still six million terminals owned by France Télécom, which had been left with their users in order to avoid recycling problems. The main uses were banking and financial services, which benefit from Minitel's security features, and access to professional databases. France Télécom mentions, as an example of usage, that 12 million updates to personal "carte vitale" health-care cards were made through Minitel.[6]

In 2007, revenue was well over $100 million.[4]

In 2010, €30 million in revenues with 85% of those revenues going to service providers.[7]


The most popular service of the Minitel was the "Annuaire Electronique" accessible through the phone number 11. On 18 October 1996 (new French numbering system adopted), the access to the phone directory changed to 3611. Companies could add up to 3 lines of complementary information and a "prehistoric" website. Ads to the Minitel phone directory were sold by ODA (Office d'Annonces), today Pages Jaunes Groupe in Sèvres France. In 1991, the "Minitel Website" for the Paris Sony Stores contained already over 100 pages. Today the 3611 Minitel Directory is widely replaced by the online white or yellow pages, available through the websites (Groupe Pages Jaunes SA) or in English (Groupe Phonebook of the World).

On 11 February 2009, France Télécom and PagesJaunes announced that they were to cancel plans to end the Minitel service in March 2009. Its directory assistance service was still being accessed over a million times a month.[8] This was before France Télécom retired the service on the 30th of June 2012, on account of operational cost and fewer customers due to lack of interest.


Teletel on a Thomson Videotex terminal

Minitel used terminals consisting of a text-based screen, keyboard and modem. Simple graphics could be displayed using a set of predefined graphical characters. Aftermarket printers were available.[9]

When connecting, the Minitel integrated modem generally dialed a special number connecting to a PAVI (Point d'Accès VIdéotexte, "videotext access point"). The PAVI transmitted information to the servers of the appropriate company or administration using the Transpac X.25 network.

In France the most common dial number was "36 15", while "36 17" was used by more expensive services. Minitel services names were often prefixed with this number to identify them as such. Billboard ads at the time often consisted of nothing more than an image, a company name, and a "36 15" number; the fact that a Minitel service was being advertised was then clear by implication.

Minitel used a half-duplex asymmetric data transmission via its modem. It downlinked at 1200 bit/s and uplinked at 75 bit/s. This allowed fast downloads, for the time. The system, which came to be known as "1275" was more correctly known as V.23. This system was developed solely for Minitel and its clones around the world.

Technically, Minitel refers to the terminals, while the network is known as Teletel.

Minitel terminals use the AZERTY keyboard most commonly used in France (as opposed to the QWERTY keyboard more common in the English-speaking world).

Minitel and the Internet

The extent to which Minitel enhanced or hindered the development of the Internet in France is widely debated. On the one hand, it included more than a thousand services, some of which predicted common applications on the modern Internet.[3] For example, in 1986, French university students coordinated a national strike using Minitel, demonstrating an early use of digital communication devices for participatory technopolitical ends.[10] Alternatively, the French government's attachment to the natively developed Minitel may have slowed the adoption of the Internet in France; there were still 810,000 terminals in the country in 2012, and in the 1990s there was a peak of nine million terminals.[3] In 2013, the Cervin project showed users a very simple way to tweet via an Arduino gateway.[11]

Minitel in other countries

See also


  1. 1 2 "Minitel: The rise and fall of the France-wide web", Hugh Schofield, BBC News Magazine (Paris), 27 June 2012.
  2. Presse, Agence France (21 July 2011). "Le Minitel disparaîtra en juin 2012" [Minitel will disappear in June 2012]. Le Figaro (in French). (English translation)
  3. 1 2 3 Lichfield, John (9 June 2012). "How France Fell Out of Love with Minitel". The Independent.
  4. 1 2 "On the Farms of France, the Death of a Pixelated Workhorse", Scott Sayare, New York Times, 27 June 2012
  5. Green, Carla. "Replay All - The French Connection". Gimlet Media. Retrieved 27 February 2015. External link in |website= (help)
  6. "Bilan Minitel 2005" (PDF) (Press release) (in French). France Telecom. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF, 920KB) on 4 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-08-02.
  7. "Farmers mourn death of French proto-internet", Agence France-Presse (AFP), ABC News (Australia), 29 June 2012
  8. "Minitel lives on". Radio France Internationale. 11 February 2009.
  9. "Imprimantes Rouleau Thermique" (in French). Acel Genesys. Archived from the original on 5 February 2009. (English translation)
  10. Kahn, Richard; Kellner, Douglas (2008). "Technopolitics, Blogs, and Emergent Media Ecologies". In Hawk, Byron; Rieder, David; Oviedo, Ollie. Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 22–37 [24]. ISBN 9780816649778. External link in |title= (help)
  11. Bordage, Fred (9 October 2013). "25 years old Minitel send tweets on the internet".
  12. Note: Detailed information on these services via Videotex Nederland (Dutch) (nl:Videotex Nederland English translation) and Viditel (Dutch) (nl:Viditel English translation) on the Dutch Wiki
  13. REDES DE SERVICIOS TELEMATICOS: En Ibertex se reciben páginas de información bajo la norma CEPT-1, el estándar más avanzado que existe en videotex, que permite gráficos pero no sonido.
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