TOMORROW at midnight is the end of an era –Minitel is shutting down.
After 20 years of service, owner France Télécom is pulling the plug by switching off the “X 25”, the network over which the service works.
A precursor to the internet, Minitel gave a dial-up information service over phone lines via special terminals, consisting of a screen using text and basic graphics, with a keyboard and modem. Long before the World Wide Web, people could use it, for example, to reserve trains, search for phone numbers, buy online, pay bills, play games or chat.
Free boss Xavier Niel was among those who made fortunes with the notorious “Minitel rose” sex chat services.
At the end of the 1990s about nine million of the brown or grey terminals were to be found in French homes and businesses and you could consult them in post offices; however it has since been rendered obsolete by the internet.
Its most-used service, 3611 directory enquiries, was supposed to be axed in 2009, but was reprieved because it was still relatively popular. Then a switch-off of the Minitel was planned in September 2011, but once again put off.
As many as 400,000 people are estimated to have still been using it at the start of this year, however this time the shut-down is definitive, says France Télécom.
The last reprieve was to allow any businesses still using it to adjust to the change. A team of around 100 people was put in place to help people swap to the internet.
Some users, often elderly, have no internet, while others say they just preferred the Minitel. One user, Gérard Neyret, 80, told France Info: “It’s simple, practical and fast and you aren’t bothered by adverts.”
However die-hards have also included some professionals, farmers, tobacconists and even supermarket chain Casino, who used it to make orders, or some doctors who used it instead of the internet to transfer details of consultations to the health insurance authorities electronically (instead of using paper feuilles de soins).
Some claim that attachment to the Minitel held back the internet in France, denied by an author on the Minitel, academic Benjamin Thierry, who has said, on the contrary, it helped prepare the French to use the web, and pioneered use of terms like “navigation” and “page”.
Orange shops are accepting old Minitels for recycling.