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The French Minitel system, a precursor to the internet, will be shut down tomorrow.

When the French phone system was revamped in the 1980s, it required new phone numbers to all its citizens. Videotex services, it was said, would be cheaper than printing millions of new phone directories. The PTT rolled out Minitels throughout France in 1982.

The state-subsidized Minitels were in every household. A Teletext system sent the information over broadcast television channels (as Antiope teletext). By the mid 80s, France was far more interconnected than any other nation

The French government said the mass adoption would provide French leadership for the burgeoning, world-wide electronic information business, and establish a world-wide standard for it. Government-owned France Telecom monopolized access and only newspaper companies supplied any content.

The French Minitel system primarily competed with Videotex systems from Britan and Canada.

The British Videotext system, developed by the British PPT in 1977, had blockier, character-sized graphics, but could it be transmitted over television (as Prestel) or by telephone (as Viewdata).

In 1978, the Canadian Telidon system was developed, using vector graphics. All three standards were battling for a world-wide standard.

In 1984, at the CCITT’s Eighth Plenary Assembly, the committee officially approved the North American Presentation Level Propocal (NAPLPS) as one of three international standard protocols.

NAPLPS appeared on the Prodigy online service, AT&T sold a $600 terminal, and CBS began transmitting teletext (called ExtraVision) over the national CBS television network in 1986.

From its earliest days, videotext users could make online purchases, make train reservations, check stock prices, search the telephone directory, have a mail box, and even chat. But Videotex (optional “t”) was not a long distance service. There were no internet ISPs. There was no Internet.

Consumers used local dial-up service to connect to local databases. It downlinked at 1200 bit/s and uplinked at 75 bit/s. Fast for the time. Teletext systems used television to transmit 50-100 “pages” (hidden in the vertical interval) using a carousel of repeated information that the decoder could “grab”.

France Telecom will pull the plug Saturday. Some regret that the nation didn’t build on its technological lead, but most French folks will probably remember the boxes nostalgically, knowing that they beat the internet by almost 20 years, notes Engadget.

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