Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Minitel is a Videotex online service accessible through the telephone lines, and is considered one of the world's most successful pre-Internet online services. It was launched in France in 1982 by the PTT (Poste, Téléphone et Télécommunications) (divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste). 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, 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" directories, but only the yellow pages ; the white pages were accessible for free on Minitel. France Télécom estimates that almost 9 million 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).
The Minitel allowed access to various categories of services:
- phone directory (free)
- mail-order retail companies
- plane or train ticket purchases
- information services
- message boards
As with early considerations on possible consumer usage of the Internet, two crucial uses were initially underestimated: personal messaging, and porn services and erotic messages boards (messageries roses). Indeed, these are said to have accounted for the majority of traffic.
The development of Minitel spawned the creation of many start-up companies in a manner similar to the later dot-com boom of Internet-related companies; and, similarly, many of those small companies floundered and failed, because of an overcrowded market or bad business practices (lack of infrastructure for online retailers).The messageries roses and other pornographic sites were also criticized for their possibe use by under-age children; however, the government chose not to enact coercive measures, claiming that regulating the online access of children is up to their parents, not the government; it also enacted a tax on pornographic online services.
- Credit card for purchases
- Telephone bill for surfing time: rates depend on the sites visited
France Télécom charges Minitel users, at rates of up to €1 a minute, on their monthly telephone bill. The rates depend on the service called; most services are far cheaper than the maximum. It then pays back part of the sum to the companies that operate 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 ($824 million) of revenues, 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 Les Trois Suisses , France's biggest mail order companies.
When connecting, the Minitel integrated modem generally dials a special number connecting to a PAVI (Point d'Accès VIdéotexte, "videotext access point"). The PAVI transmits information back on to the servers of the appropriate company or administration using the Transpac X.25 network.
Technically, Minitel refers to the terminals, while the network is known as Teletel.
Minitel and the Internet
Minitel was often considered as an impediment for a fast deployment of the Internet in France, since it already provided safe and easy online access for many useful services without requiring a personal computer. Indeed, it still has many advantages over the Internet: it does not require subscribing to a service, buying and maintaining a costly personal computer, and there are fewer security issues with respect to credit card payments and other personal information. Also, because Minitels follow well-defined standards, there are hardly any compatibility problems, which are commonplace with Internet services.
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.
Minitel in other countries
Interestingly, Minitel deployment was not only confined to France. In 1992, Telecom Éireann (now known as Eircom) launched the Minitel service in Ireland, but it did not achieve the penetration levels that it did in France.
- Minitel services are now available over the Internet. The scope of the service can be seen (in French) at http://www.minitel.fr/, though access to the actual information is only available to subscribers.
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