An American observer comments on French politics.
When I moved to France my notaire warned me solemnly not to let any one else touch my Minitel...which was at that point supplied free.Being in the country, he said, they would be running up big bills on the minitel rose while telling me they were checking the train timetable.
Never mind, there's always Quaero. Jacques Chirac's wonderful alternative to Google. The closest British equivalent, Autonomy, was backed by venture capital, was bought out by the Yanks (in the form of Hewlett Packard) and was then comprehensively fucked up in typical big corporate fashion. Victory!
An old friend bites the dust! How advanced and cutting edge France was. What has happened in these intervenning years? Not much. One wonders what happened to that incredible creativity and ingenuity that just fizzled. When I picked mine up at the PTT I was thrilled. When I heard from other students at my prestigious school about the rumors of bills in the thousands of francs, I vowed to only use it with caution. It was useful for that, but not in my field, art history and archaeology, so it sat unused. It explains why the PC was so slow in catching on in France.
The PC was slow catching-up in France, because some people loved their Minitel.But also because in the late nineties, during the "bubble" when internet started to boom everywhere internet providers active in France (AOL, CompuServe, etc.) offered dial-up connections requiring to call local phone numbers.At that time the state-owned France Telecom was being privatized. On one hand its Minitel cash-cow was threatened by these new internet offers, on the other the market was first opened to competition on international calls (local calls remained a monopoly until 2002). So FT did what any monopoly would have done: it raised prices on local calls and decreased international calls prices.So even for people who, like myself, didn't own a Minitel (my family never saw the need for one), but were looking for internet access (I had become addicted to free internet in the US) the cost of regular internet use was just prohibitive. Even after ADSL started to democratize, FT/Orange did its best to milk “customers” in non-competitive (“non dégroupées”) areas while offering reasonable offers in front of competition.Like many Frenchmen I have a lot of memories of these brown boxes sitting in relatives’ houses, and it's definitely a page being turned. When it was launched it was a brilliant piece a technology, but over the years to me it became a symbol of how FT abused its dominant position. Now the plug was pulled, I’m not going to shade a tear.
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