THE INTERNET IN FRANCE
A paper by Suzanne Schiller
The context of the project
This paper constitutes my final project for the class
taught by Professor Howard Besser during
the Fall of 1996 at the Haas School of Business entitled
Impact of New Information Resources: Multimedia and networks .
If you have comments about the paper...
You can forward them to me via email to the following
address at London Business School until
July 1997: click here
The paper's objectives
This paper aims to identify the reasons behind the
slow growth of Internet usage in France, with a view to predicting
likely future developments and assess the opportunities which
the Internet offers French businesses. I examine the effects of
the French government's market intervention, both through the
Minitel system operated by the national telecoms operator, and
through regulation and supervision. I discuss in particular the
French's fear that to the Anglo-saxon domination of the Internet
and other multimedia will lead to the extinction of the French
language and culture and evaluate the effectiveness of the remedies
If you only have time to read this
France has the second largest economy in Europe and
its 58 million inhabitants enjoy a very high standard of living.
The French, however, have been among the slowest adopters of the
Internet in Western Europe. This cannot be explained by the French's
suspicion for technological innovation and conservatism as they
were one of the first in the world to be 'on-line' through the
Minitel, a videotext-based system. Besides the barriers to the
growth of Internet usage which still affect or have affected most
European countries, such as telecommunications regulations and
monopolies which have led to high telephone charges, additional
barriers exist in France.
The Minitel, instead of serving as an initiator for
consumers to the Internet, seems to be working to its disadvantage.
First of all consumers may hesitate to invest in a PC when they
already have a Minitel terminal, which was given to them for free
and allows them to perform a significant number of transactions,
to their satisfaction. In addition the French government, who
is in the process of privatizing the national telecoms operator,
France Telecom, which operates the Minitel system, is understandably
reluctant to promote the Internet as it would probably kill the
significant source of revenues drawn by the Minitel. The French
government's initiatives in fact seem to have been designed more
to pre-empt the use of the Internet for purposes contrary to public
order and security than to encourage the development of the Internet.
Discussions at government level have focused on the threats posed
by the Internet (e.g. pornography over the Internet) and thus
on the need to regulate the Internet and monitor its development;
although these are clearly important issues to address, the government
seems to have forgotten about the huge business opportunities
which the Internet could bring to French companies, especially
as the telecoms market is in the process of being liberalized
pursuant to European Union legislation. Although the battle for
the hardware and software market may already be lost, there may
still be ample opportunities for French content providers to win
a part of the market, which will grow, albeit slowly.
The government and the press have also been calling
for defensive measures to be taken to prevent the Internet from
further eroding the French language and culture. I believe that
more positive measures should be taken to promote the French language
and culture; these include encouraging the digitization of French
works (literature, poems), promoting the use of the Internet to
the French population while simultaneously facilitating the creation
of content in French on the Internet.
Plan of the paper
Looking at France from Berkeley, California where
everyone talks about the Internet and uses it regularly, one cannot
help but be surprised to discover that the Internet remains relatively
unknown and its potential untapped in a country, which is the
2nd largest economy in Western Europe. However, one
needs to put this in the European context and not take the US,
and in particular the North of California as a basis for reference.
The first part of the paper therefore looks at the Internet in
Europe, and compares the level of Internet usage in France with
that of its neighbors. The second part identifies the reasons
for the slow adoption of the Internet in France, even when compared
to its European neighbors. The third part focuses on the key part
played by the French Government's role in the Internet's development.
The fourth part describes the current providers of access to on-line
services and the Internet in France. The last part looks at future
perspectives. After a conclusion, the paper also provides a list
of useful sources of further information, as well as addresses
of interesting web sites.
I. The Internet in Europe
II. The reasons for the slow adoption of the Internet in France
III. The French Government's role in the Internet's development
IV. Access providers to on-line services and the Internet V. Future perspectives
Part I - The Internet in Europe
Internet usage is lagging far behind the US
Although the World Wide Web was born in Switzerland
- at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva -
Europe quickly relinquished its Internet leadership role to the
U.S. As regards both the provision of technology and content as
well as Internet usage Europe is now clearly lagging behind the
Estimates of usage figures vary. Euro-Marketing Associates report
on European trends its on-line magazine InterNet Times (see article).
According to the San Jose-based research firm Dataquest Inc.,
by mid-1996 there were about 5 million European Internet users
(nearly 2 million of whom were in the United Kingdom). Although
higher figures have been put forward they represent a very small
percentage of Europe's total population, which amounts to more
than 350 million inhabitants. The reluctance of some European
on-line services to reveal subscription figures is a good indicator
of the low level of usage in Europe. The bankruptcy of Europe
Online just a few months after its launch in December 1995 was
clearly partly due to the disappointing number of subscribers.
The UK and the Nordic countries are leading the way
as regards usage as they have the highest proportion of users.
Sweden boosts 150,000 homes connected, Finland 90,000, Norway
70,000 and Denmark 60,000, which are very high numbers compared
to those countries' populations (between 5 and 9 million inhabitants).
Germany, the largest home market, counts 900,000 households with
access to the Internet; in addition 2 million Germans also have
access to the Internet from work. 160,000 Spanish households are
have Internet-wired homes.
The French are among the slowest adopters of
A statistical study undertaken by the Médiangles institute in May 1996 evaluated at 400,000 the number of Internet users in France, 25 years after the establishment of its infrastructure, a ridiculous number compared to the country's 58 million inhabitants. Most businesses are not yet linked to the Internet, let alone use email. Ministries and the French administration are only beginning to have web sites and use the Internet themselves. An initiative is underway to have all Ministries establish web sites before the end of 1997. Many ministries and government agencies already have such sites, which are accessible through the Admifrance site. Some sites even have a small summary available in English or German. The President's and the Prime Minister's pages should have an English version soon. For the moment these unfortunately only say: Sorry this page is currently only available in francais
But where European Internet usage falls far behind
the U.S. is in the home. For most Europeans, the Internet remains
a mystery and the majority of Internet-savvy Europeans tend to
be students, researchers and technologists.
Part II - The reasons behind the Internet's slow development in France
A yet to be liberalized telecoms market
Growth of Internet usage is dependent on the development
of the telecoms infrastructure and the extent of telecommunications
liberalization. France's telecoms infrastructure is pretty much
in place as France is the leader in many telecommunications segments.
It is the first producer of telephones on the international market.
The telephone network is completely digitized; all 32.4 million
lines are connected to fully electronic digital switches, and
the long-distance network has more than 1.1 million kilometers
of fiber-optic cable. ISDN access is available nationwide. Numeris,
the ISDN service of France Telecom, the national telecoms operator,
was developed in accordance with international standards. France
Telecom now has 1.27 million ISDN B channels in operation, with
usage charges billed at the rate of a standard call. The Transpac
subsidiary operates the world's No. 1 data network in terms of
size (128,000 access points in Europe) and volume transmitted
(some 4.3 trillion characters in 1995). In 1994 Transpac began
offering Internet access, and in 1995 more than 200 Internet access
points were installed.
The French telecommunications sector, which represents an annual turnover of U$41 billion, however still remains regulated, in particular if compared to the UK and the Nordic countries where liberalization was achieved much earlier. Essentially all services except public switched voice telephony are currently open to competition and have been since 1990. By January 1, 1998, switched voice telephony and all
telecommunications infrastructure will be open to
full competition as required by European Union legislation. In
parallel to liberalization - but unrelated - France Telecom is
in the process of being privatized.
A lot of information on the French telecoms market
and France Telecom can be found on the web site of France Telecom .
Low home PC penetration
France has a very low home PC penetration - under
10% - compared to Canada and the U.S., where it now exceeds 35%
of households. One reason could be that computers in France are
expensive. Another reason could be the French's suspicion of technological
innovation and conservatism, which is supported by certain statistics.
Indeed household equipment rates in VCR, freezer, hifi and even
color TV still remains lower to many other European countries.
Lastly, other observers believe that "the French have better
things to spend their money on, like sidewalk cafes, dressing
well and fine food."
High telephone charges
Although France Telecom proudly announces that its
telephone charges are among the lowest in Europe, local usage
charges are still very expensive and French telephone subscribers
are always on the meter, even for local calls. High local line
charges definitely discourage Internet usage, and in particular
random web surfing. In addition it discourages electronic purchase
and delivery of software as downloading software may turn out
more costly than buying it from a dealer.
Some industry observers also note that France Telecom has such a firm grip on pricing for services such as leased lines and ISDN that WAN services are too expensive. A 64Kbps ISDN line, for example, costs nearly $ 2,000 a month in France, making wide-area networking unrealistic for many companies. By comparison, 64Kbps ISDN in the US can cost $ 30 per month or less and rarely exceeds $ 200 per month.
Language is a significant barrier to widespread European
Internet usage. According to Euro-Marketing Associates in Paris,
85% of all Web pages are in English while English speakers represent
80 to 85 percent of today's on-line population. This is clearly
a strong barrier to Internet usage growth in France, as the French
are not as good at English as their Nordic neighbors. This however
is changing as English proficiency is improving in France.
Lack of content
Content is key to attracting customers and stimulating
Internet usage. Although France ranks ninth in the world for the
number of sites created - for a list of all of the 4850 French
sites registered in December 1996, check out the following site,
these have not managed to attract the French on-line and generate
A similar development occurred in cable television,
where the emphasis was put more on providing the infrastructure
and connecting over 5 billion people in 10 years, than on providing
the services and the content which the viewers would have to pay
for. As a result only 1.4 billion actually subscribed to cable
TV. The strategy of Canal+, the
pay-TV, of high quality content has, on the other hand, been very
successful and now competes with cable TV.
In addition many French companies seem reluctant
to make the transition from the Minitel, from which they derive
revenues, to the Internet where services are generally offered
for free. However a report published in June 1996 by the Paris-based
research firm Benchmark Group indicates that more than 50% of
the major French firms had Web sites or were in the process of
The Minitel network is an on-line system set up in
1980 by France Telecom to offset some of the printing costs associated
with France's massive yellow pages. As the web site established
by the French Embassy in Washington proudly
indicates: "The Minitel videotext system is used by more
than 6.5 million households and the terminals provide 17,000 interactive
information services including home banking and electronic mail.
Thanks to the Minitel, the French are leading the way in electronic
financial transactions. " Indeed the Minitel generated more
than US$ 6.6 billion revenues in 1995, of which France Telecom
kept half, and the other half went to the content providers. Some
industry analysts even claim that as many as 90 percent of the
French population have regular access to a Minitel terminal, either
at home or through work.
The Minitel's success may have slowed households'
investment in more sophisticated equipment Consumers may indeed
hesitate to invest in a PC when they already have a Minitel terminal,
which was given to them for free and allows them to perform a
significant number of transactions to their satisfaction. In addition
France Telecom - and thus indirectly the French government - has
been and still is reluctant to promote the Internet as it will
most probably mean the end of the Minitel business (as the Minitel
suffers from poor-quality screen display and graphics, which cannot
easily be improved). Such reluctance has clearly had negative
effects on Internet usage.
Lack of media attention
The lack of media attention has clearly had negative
effects on Internet usage. It has only been very recently that
the European media have started devoting attention to the Internet.
This has been particularly true in France. Major newspapers have
recently created information technology or multimedia supplements
and specialized weeklies have appeared, while works of vulgarization
are being published. A number of French newspapers are also now
available through on-line services.
When there has been media coverage, it has usually
focused on the negative effects of the Internet Le Monde, a highly
respected national newspaper, ran a series of articles on the
Internet this year, most of which seem to have addressed the possible
negative effects of the Internet, namely the opportunities for
crime involved and the dominance of Anglo-saxon language and culture
over the Internet. There has been limited coverage of the huge
array of opportunities which the Internet presents both businesses
and individuals. Such positive coverage would clearly have encouraged
the French to try out the Internet, , in particular as the French
are big readers of newspapers and magazines.
The Internet as the Outlaw
The Internet has tended to be seen as being outside
the law. For example a book about the Mitterand's battle against
cancer, which was banned from publishing, was published on the
Internet. The government , as is explain in part III, has been
extremely vocal in warning of possible abuse through the Internet.
The press has reported extensively on several cases of infringement
of public morality and order as well as discrimination. These
cases concerned clear anti-Semitic web sites, pornographic web
sites and web sites enabling the easy adoption of children, made
to fit specifications. Although these cases clearly needed to
be investigated and legal action taken, the lack of coverage of
the positive aspects of the Internet (which constitue the majority)
can give readers the impression that the Internet is all bad.
Although security issues and encryption are discussed
at government (for defense and anti-terrorism purposes) and business
levels (to allow safe Internet-based financial transactions and
enable export of software), they do not seem to have played a
role in scaring off new Internet users, many of whom have experience
of the safe Minitel-based financial transactions.
Part III - The French government's role in the Internet's development
Protecting the goose with the golden eggs
As is explained in part II, France Telecom and thus
indirectly the French government, has been reluctant in promoting
the Internet as this would be to the Minitel's disadvantage. France
Telecom was able over the years to exercise a lot of pressures
on the French government to get its way and maximize the revenues
from Minitel business. At the time of the launch of the Minitel
it managed for example to get the French government to ban TV
teletext and to price the telephone directory inquiries on-line
highly. Its pressure on the government is still high, in particular
as the government has an interest in the firm's well-being, as
it is in the process of privatising the firm.
Avoiding the "Digital Wild West"
In an on-line interview of the French Minister of
Postal Affairs, Telecommunications and Space, François
Fillon, posted on the French Embassy in Washington's website,
he declares: "Internet represents an opportunity for society
as it increases the ways we can access knowledge. In fact, while
there can be no question of challenging the freedom of use of
these new networks, we cannot allow a "digital wild West"
to develop in which our French laws would hold no sway."
It is interesting to note that in this interview
the Minister draws a clear parallel between the development of
the Internet and that of the audiovisual industry. As he says,
"Through the development of a network like the Internet,
our society is confronted with the same challenge it once faced
with the development of the audiovisual industry. Internet, as
all these new technologies, represents an opportunity for society
as it increases the ways we can access knowledge. We must learn
to live with these technologies and not be afraid of the future
they embody. We must, therefore, take time to reflect before regulating
how they are used, noting, moreover, that from now on French judges
have the necessary competence to deal with almost any crime committed
against or using the Internet. Well thought out regulations are
not necessarily the enemy of the development of a technology -
audiovisual regulations are a good example - but must make it
possible to limit abuse."
Behind the "Digital Wild West" lies concerns
over morality and crime, security and the dominance of the Anglo-saxon
language and culture over the Internet.
The French policeman - defending law, peace
Last May, the offices of two of France's larger ISPs
were raided by police in a crackdown on child pornography distributed
on a usenet newsgroup. Subsequently, access to all newsgroups
was blocked until the government determined that ISPs are not
liable for information posted by users. In May the Union of Jewish
students in France lost a case against 9 service providers they
had asked to block access to web sites denying the Holocaust as
the judge acknowledged the impossibility of ISPs to control the
content of the messages which transit via them. Access providers
are not liable for the nature of the information they provide
access to, as long as they offer a filter software to their subscribers.
As regards security issues, France, which was one
of the last country opposed to encryption, has softened its regulation,
and is now holding discussions on the way to encrypt and no longer
on the need to encrypt.
Defending the French language and culture
The Internet is accessible in most countries and
all cultures, to a certain extent, are represented on the Internet.
The Internet may thus have beneficial effects by enabling easy
access to other cultures, including the French culture. However
many in France warn of the risk of a cultural uniformization,
pointing in particular at the danger of Anglo-saxon hegemony,
in particular from the United States, over the Internet. Many
fear that the Internet, just like the audiovisual industry, will
become dominated by America.
English is indeed by far the dominant language in
the Internet world. As mentioned above, 85% of all Web pages are
estimated to be in English. English dominance also means for example
that one cannot write accents (as are needed in French) on e-mail.
In addition a huge proportion of the reference sources
found when surfing the web looking for information on French history,
culture and art are American sources. Although this is not a bad
thing, it should be balanced by more French or other national
sources. In addition some observers indicate that more sites on
the Internet seem to have been created by the French-speaking
Canadians than by the French proportionally.
André Malraux, the first Minister of Culture,
set forth, in 1959, the goal of " making known the most important
works of art to the largest number of people ". Five priorities
of cultural policy were derived from this goal: education, creation,
preservation, access, and promotion.
The first modern language regulation aimed at monitoring and transforming the use of French emanated in 1966 from President Charles de Gaulle, a name associated with French independence, nationalism and power. Further regulations followed and committees were established to examine issues relating to the use, practice, promotion, enrichment, and dissemination of French in France and abroad. The first Parliamentary regulation dates back to 1975 and took the form of a consumer protection law; it provided for an exception to the "use French" rule when the word for a product had no French equivalent. The 1994 Toubon Law replaced the 1975 regulation, with a much clearer cultural objective. French is required for all radio and television shows and advertising; exceptions include musical works, original version films, and language learning programs. Private individuals or entities engaged in "public sector" activities (a term not defined in the law) must comply with the language regulation. However, the extension of the law into the sensitive area of privacy rights was successfully challenged under constitutional law by opponents to the bill as an excessive constraint on the freedom of expression.
The French were also instrumental in the drafting and adoption of the European Community Directive requiring that its member countries dedicate at least one-half of their television air time to European -made
programs. The Directive was the European answer to the fear that Europe's cultural autonomy, and thus its cultural creativity were being seriously undermined by the American intrusion. Europe, which
takes pride in its multi-secular capital of culture,
took this step to try to prevent the United States from commodifying
Promotion of Multimedia and supervision of the
A law adopted in June 1996 places the Internet under
the supervision of the High-level Telematics Committee (Comite
Superieur de la Telematique or CST), a re-modelled version of
the Committee which used to oversee the 25000 Minitel servers.
The CST reports to the Superior Audiovisual Council (Conseil Superieur
de l'Audiovisuel or CSA). The CST will adopt recommendations which
access providers will have to follow. The Internet community reacted
strongly to the imposition of such a supervisor, emphasizing the
freedom of speech. Indeed the definition of morality and decency
is very difficult to pinpoint as it means different things to
different people and cultures. Also some have insisted on the
need to have international solutions and not French solutions
to the problems, which are international in nature.
The French government has been instrumental in bringing
the issue of the supervision of the Internet and the protection
of public order and morality to international forums. In April
1996, the French government presented a proposal for an International
Cooperation Charter to its OECD partners which would aim at defining
effective common principles of application of national law, definition
of the responsibilities of the parties involved, commitment to
the exchange of information and the promotion of a code of conduct
established on a voluntary basis by the professionals involved
and including principles such as respect for public order and
human dignity, and the protection of privacy, property, and consumers.
establishment of legal and police cooperation. The French are
also leading the discussions within European forums, such as the
The French government is also looking into the legal
and fiscal aspects of the development of the new Internet services.
As regards support to the creation of multimedia
program, on-line or off-line, funds from the National Cinema Center
to support the creation of CD-ROM and CD-I have been doubled;
30 million francs will be available for the next two years. In
addition the National Book Center will spend 1 million francs
in 1996 to help publishers' investment costs related to multimedia
projects; also a fund for multimedia investment for publishing
companies should be created and allocated a 20 million franc budget.
Part IV - Access providers to on-line services and the Internet
On-line service providers with proprietary
There are three major on-line service providers with
proprietary architecture in France, which basically help their
subscribers find their way in the huge amount of information available.
As they also, on the other hand, limit the subscribers' investigations,
they now all offer a bridge to the Internet. They also typically
provide access to much more usenet groups than ISPs.
Internet Access Providers
A huge number of companies provide Internet access; at least 150 have signed a convention with NIC France - which manages the registrations- and are therefore allowed to create domains under the fr domain, while another 50 have not signed a convention and are therefore not allowed to create domains under the fr domain. For a complete list of service providers, see the NIC's web site.
Microsoft Network - www.msn.com) decided to put its on-line service
on the Internet instead of having a proprietary version. Part
of the services are however only accessible to subscribers, such
as commercial services, forums, databases.
France Telecom in May 1996 launched its own Internet
access providers, wanadoo.
In competing for customers, France Telecom should benefit from
its brand name, its financial strength and its control over telephony
infrastructure costs. The Minitel is
now also available via the Internet.
Part V - Future perspectives
Liberalization of voice telephony
The government's recently announced plans to open up the long-distance telephone market should give France more effective competition in telecoms than most other large countries. The new system - to take effect from January 1 1998 - will allow customers to choose between long-distance operators, on a call-by-call basis, by the first digit in the recently introduced 10-digit telephone numbers. This should create strong competition in the long-distance market.
As regards local services, competition will center
around the provision of high-quality mini-networks for high added-value
user groups - predominantly business. France Telecom will be in
a strong position through the fees it will charge for connecting
these networks into its national network. As the French government
is in the process of privatizing France Telecom industry observers
worry that these fees, if they are not reduced, could have the
effect of preserving an "effective monopoly" for France
Telecom on local calls. However others point to the new telecommunications
law passed last June which provides for the establishment of an
independent regulatory body.
Although it is difficult to predict future usage
figures, Dataquest Inc.expects Europe, by the end of 1996, to
hold 20 percent of the world's active on-line population, or roughly
9.7 million people. Through a more widespread and balanced press
coverage of the Internet, more initiation to the Internet through
schools and universities, word-of-mouth, the number of Internet
users in France should increase dramatically over the next five
years. The greatest growth in Internet usage should, initially
at least, be in the business-to-business segment, due to the low
level of computer penetration. Set-top boxes or network computers
could however help bypass the preliminary hurdle of having customers
purchase an expensive computer. A company - DMC - has already
announced its intention to offer a set-top box to be connected
to a TV and a telephone line, which could cost 50FF/month and
would come with an infrared keyboard and a credit card reader.
Customers would have access to interactive TV programs, an on-line
service and the Internet.
In addition in January 1997 France Telecom will launch
"the Internet Kiosk", i.e. special telephone numbers
which give access to the Internet using the France Telecom backbone
telecommunications infrastructure. Service companies will obtain
a number and a caller will pay for the use of the Internet by
duration, instead of paying a monthly subscription fee. France
Telecom will charge the amount on the telephone bill and will
pay the service company a part of the money. Such a system should
be attractive to people who do not use the Internet a lot. In
addition it may encourage use of the Internet. On the other hand
it will clearly take away customers from existing Internet Access
More attractive content and services
The Minitel experience clearly proves that there
is money to be made in on-line services, in particular if security
is assured and the billing process is simplified. The Minitel's
financial success seems to have relied on the fact that the entire
system was controlled by France telecom, which made customers
feel comfortable connecting to the system and using their credit
cards. In addition France Telecom collected all the fees from
the customer (who received a single bill) and was then responsible
for redistributing the revenues to the different service providers.
Name recognition and reputation should therefore play a major
part in the widespread acceptance of on-line transactions. In
addition it may be interesting to promote some kind of independent
authority responsible for overseeing financial transactions over
the Internet. As regards security issues, a consortium, involving
two major French banks, Visa International and France Telecom
and a card technology company is currently experimenting a global
secure payments system by Internet.
The availability of quality content and varied services
over the Internet will remain the main driver behind usage increase.
French companies have not yet realized the potential
which the Internet represents. Indeed an IDC study shows that
nearly half of them look at the web only as a means to improve
image. German and British companies seem to see more advantages
than purely image as nearly 70% of German enterprises see the
web as enabling bigger reactivity to the market and only 3.5%
mention image. For nearly 70 % of UK enterprises, the main advantages
lie in economies of management and new market study. As French
companies realize the Internet's larger opportunities, they will
be encouraged to provide more and better content and services
over the Internet. With French web sites they could attract customers
among the 200 million French speakers worldwide. If they create
multilingual sites, they could further broaden their target customer
on the number of new domains registered in France show that the
pace of creation has clearly taken off since the end of 1994.
Whereas there were only around 250-300 domains in 1991, 4850 were
registered in December 1996. Indeed as Euro-Marketing Associates declares,
the number of English-only sites "should decrease to 40 to
50 percent by 2000, as the rest of the world normalizes their
Advice to the government
So far the French government's initiatives seem to
have been designed more to pre-empt the use of the Internet to
ends which may be contrary to public order and security that to
encourage the harmonious development of the Internet. Too much
emphasis seems to have been put on regulating and monitoring the
Internet, setting the rules and choosing the referee, even before
people were encouraged to play. Although it is clearly important
to regulate the Internet and prevent abuses leading to infringement
of public law, security and order, the emphasis should equally
be put on letting the more positive aspects of the Internet prevail.
It is indeed crucial to encourage French companies and individuals
to enter the Internet arena before it is too late and the best
spots are taken. The government, opinion leaders, the press and
the education system have a particular responsibility in this
respect. Companies should also clearly take their responsibilities.
Towards a new approach to the promotion of
the French language and culture
The French culture and language, if they are to survive
and continue to thrive, need a change of policy away from defending
them against the Anglo-saxon enemy to promoting them in themselves
or possibly in the context of other languages and cultures. The
community at large stands to benefit from cultural diversity,
notably on the Internet as it becomes a key medium for communication,
dissemination of new ideas, debates and education. The establishment
of sites in French or sites promoting French culture would therefore
be the best vehicle for the promotion of the French language and
culture. France has such a rich cultural heritage and a rich language
to serve as the raw materials for millions of sites. These sites
however need to be high quality. The interactivity of the medium
would also enable this French language and culture to really come
One clear consequence is that the digitization of
French culture needs to be encouraged. French culture needs to
make it accessible through new multimedia tools (CD-ROM, Internet).
It is thus necessary to transform the text, images and sounds
into computerized data, and the easiest in the future is to do
this where the text, images and sounds have been produced. The
planned increase in government funding for such activities is
therefore valuable, although probably highly insufficient, compared
to the size of the project.
The work done by associations such as the ABU
(Universal Bibliophile Association), which digitizes French and
francophone literary texts which are now in the public domain
in order to ensure their distribution for free should be acknowledged
and supported The work started by the Ministry of Culture to digitize
museum artworks should be continued. However contemporary culture
also needs to be encouraged and access to library documents provided,
such as the documents from the French National Library.
In addition to digitizing French cultural works and
creating web sites in the language of Moliere, one needs to multiply
the number of languages in which the information can be accessed
in order to really promote the French culture to those who do
not - yet - speak French. Once they appreciate French culture,
who knows, they may want to speak the language too and read French
literary texts in their original version for example. Support
could be given to help develop new and improved translation programs
which would both be useful to translate from French and into French.
This paper was a preliminary attempt to understand
the current low level of Internet usage in France and the likely
developments of the Internet in the future. More thorough analysis
would be beneficial on many of the issues which are only briefly
discussed in the paper. It is however clear that although the
French have been slow adopters of the Internet, developments seem
to be speeding up now, as both businesses and individuals start
realizing the opportunities offered by the Internet.