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Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 21-28, 1988
Copyright © 1988 Pergamon Press plc. Printed in the USA
0736-5853188 $3.00 + .00
Jeffrey A. Hart
Abstract-The French videotex service, Teletel/Minitel, has been very success-
ful from the start. The French system is provided through a public packet-
switched network called TRANSPAC accessible via the public telephone lines.
The French government agency in charge of telecommunications, the
tion Generale de Telecommunications
(DGT), controls TRANSPAC and the
main computers used to provide the Electronic Directory Service (an on-line
phone book which also lists occupations) through the Teletel/Minitel system
and has the right to approve or disapprove private information services made
available through a subsystem of TRANSPAC called
The DGT de-
cided to make the Minitel terminals widely available to homes and businesses
by subsidizing the cost of the terminals.
The DGT began distributing Minitel terminals in 1981 on a trial basis.
Seven hundred thousand terminals were in service as of April 1, 1985. By the end of
1985, there were 1.3 million terminals in operation. Of the 1.3 million, 1.146 million
were loaned to users for no charge; 158,000 were leased from the DGT. The rental fee
for Minitel terminals was 85 francs per month (around US$12). About 20,000 personal
computer owners were using the system by mid-1986, having adapted their modems and
software to provide a suitable interface (more below on terminal emulation software for
PCs) ("Facts, Figures and Profits," 1986). It was projected that there would be 2.5
million terminals in service by the end of 1986.
The decision to loan the simplest Minitel terminals to users at no charge was made by
Jean Paul Maury, head of videotex development for the DGT. This was probably the
single most important reason for the tremendous success of the Minitel/Teletel system.
In 1977, it was expected that the large number of standardized terminals could be
produced for around US$50 a unit. Contracts for supplying the terminals were given to
the two largest French telecommunications equipment firms: CIT-Alcatel (produced by
their Telic-Alcatel subsidiary) and Matra. Now a third company, Radiotechnique, also
produces the terminals. The actual price paid by the government for the simplest
Minitel terminal (the M1) was around 1,000 francs at the end of 1985, or about
US$140. But the goal of making the terminals relatively inexpensive was better met in
this program than in any comparable program in the world.
The Minitel MI terminals are small, as shown in the photograph (Figure 1); the
screens are capable of producing reasonably sharp graphics, but only in black and
white (whereas Prestel and the U.S. graphics-oriented videotex services all aimed for
color images); and the French system uses a completely unique graphics standard called
Teletel. Unlike the U.S. standard, NAPLPS, Teletel uses mosaic rather than pixel
Dr. Jeffrey Hart is a professor at Indiana University. He is currently associated with
"Berkeley Roundtable on the International Economy" at the University of California.