Almost 2 million French homes and offices are now equipped with videotext computer terminals, known in France as Minitels and linked to computers through regular telephone lines. Almost 3,000 services are available to every Minitel user, who employs a keyboard to write on the screen of his or her terminal or call up information on it.
"The Minitel would not be successful in France without the government," said Antoine Michel, the director of news services for Parisien Libere, the most popular service on the system. "It is the government that subsidized the experiments and provides the Minitels. A private company would not have the resources to hand out Minitels for free."
As the French program accelerates, there is a strong possibility that the subsidies will pay off for the government. Minitels cost the government 3,000 francs (about $450) apiece. A telephone subscriber usually pays 62 francs (about $9) an hour in phone charges for use of the terminal, of which a little more than a third goes to the phone company and the rest to the provider of the service. A subscriber using the Minitel for an hour a day pays back the cost of the machine to the phone company in 18 weeks.