France Bids Adieu to Pre-Internet Service Minitel

Getty Images

France Telecom switches off the once popular service provided via terminals as the country waxes nostalgic for technologies past.

PARIS - France will say au revoir to its once popular pre-Internet service Minitel over the weekend. The service, provided via small terminals, preceded the World Wide Web and will be shut down on Saturday after 30 years.

The Minitel launched in the 1980s, and by 1995, more than 20 million people in France were connected. The service was groundbreaking at the time and brought online banking, other services and even porn to the French population.

However, the arrival of the Internet made the Minitel nearly obsolete, and French media giant France Telecom will now disconnect its last servers.

The beige monitors attached to telephones have become a part of French history and were a source of Gallic pride for years. For many here, the end of the Minitel era isn’t simply a sign of technological innovation, but also a nostalgic farewell.

Then-president Jacques Chirac said in 1997: "Today a baker in Aubervilliers knows perfectly how to check his bank account on the Minitel. Can the same be said of the baker in New York?"

“La petite boite marron” or “the little brown box,” has gone out of fashion, but is still alive. There are around 800,000 terminals in France with 2,000 services offered. Thousands of dairy farmers in Brittany, for example, rely on it daily to keep track of their cows. The French initiative never made it across borders, unlike the Internet.

Several of today’s media moguls, however, owe some of their success to the fading technology. Xavier Niel, who has been called the French Steve Jobs, made his fortune in the Minitel era, then went on to launch mobile giant Free.

So what will happen to old Minitel machines? Orange-France Telecom is offering a recycling service for people's terminals.