Wired Communities, Smart States:
Is Digital Infrastructure the New Public Works?

by John S. Niles

Sidebar: French Minitel (1998)

An example of the ambivalence about government telecommunications investments found among the Forum participants is the range of attitudes displayed toward the giant French Minitel online system. This government-developed electronic service is now 15 years old. It is a widely-used electronic commerce system providing 17 million users with access to 25,000 services. The monochrome, text-only technology is now primitive by Internet standards, yet works well for the customers of thousands of profitable online businesses. As pointed out in Business Week on October 27, 1997, the investments and user habits surrounding Minitel are now an important obstacle to getting France widely connected to the Internet.

Some would call Minitel a prescient, innovative and useful first step on a migration path to high-tech electronic commerce.

Others would call it a technological dead-end that will put France permanently behind the rest of the modern world in use of the World Wide Web.

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