Internet in France: Year Zero

by Lionel Lumbroso, Rheingoldian reporter in Paris

Back in 1981

I'd almost given up on electronic communications. In retrospect, launching Calvados in France in 1981 with two American partners seemed bound to failure. Connecting for $80/mo. to an online service that offered timesharing (Try our great RPG & Cobol compilers! Run APL on your Apple ][!), crude email and prehistoric, user-unfriendly forums through a $800 300 bps modem? You gotta be kidding, it will never sell! It didn't. Oh, we got better, modems got cheaper and faster and it was certainly exciting to pioneer the field, but this was no successful business, believe me.

From doing it all to wanting none

I'd been an evangelizer, a salesman, a PR guy, a programmer of services, a proto-sysop, a chief sysop, I'd written thousands of forum contributions, moderated hundreds of flaming events and by 1992, I'd had enough of it all. Give me nice, personal, face to face, flesh to flesh, mouth to ear contact with my fellow beings was what I thought.

Global village? That sure sounds like a BIG village!

I'd spent hours reaching out on CompuServe, discussing Macintosh in 1984-5, MIDI in 1986-7, translation in 1988-90; and now I'd almost forgotten I had a CompuServe account. I used my AppleLink account for purely professional reasons (in my new trade as a self-employed translator/copywriter). The Minitel came in handy with its Electronic Phone Directory and some other utilitarian services, but that was just about it.

Mr. Painted Shoes saves the jaded Prince

It was around that time that I met Howard (aka HLR, aka Pollenator). In a way, I must've been like a somewhat wilted flower waiting for the right kind of pollenating bee. It did take some incubation (or am I mixing my biological metaphors?! %-), on my part and on France's, but around the Fall of 1994, after having read and translated Howard's "The Virtual Community" ("Les Communautés Virtuelles"),I felt ready and eager to take a new plunge in the e-ocean.

From $20/hour to $0.20/hour in just a few weeks!

Several companies had started offering Internet accesses in France, including CalvaCom, but initial prices were steep (around $20/hour). That's the trouble with the French: They usually want to make too much of a buck at first and it takes them a while to get realistic. In this case the while lasted a good 7-8 months. And then the price war was raging! When CalvaNet (the Internet offer from CalvaCom) lowered its price to $6/hour, at the beginning of April 95, that was the signal I'd been waiting for: I got on. One week later, CompuServe France relayed the new CIS offer at $2.50/hour. Can't beat that!, I thought, and proceeded to change CalvaNet's IP number in Mac TCP to theirs. In a matter of days, another French access provider, Planète, offered unlimited access for $33/month and CalvaNet countered with a deal of up to 100 hours for $20/month. Man, these guys slash each other *hard* for a piece of the action!

French Internet access for your gallic friends

I'll provide more input from the French Internet scene soon. For now, here's a sample of French Internet access providers. Most of them have English pages as well as French. If you're trying to get a friend of yours living in France to get wired, here's all the info you'll need to give them. If on the other hand you don't know anybody there, why don't you look around, it's just a mouse click away.

CalvaCom : 100 Francs/month for 100 hours

EUnet : A still too expensive pan-European provider (80 Francs/hour)
FDN : Non-profit org. 180 F/mo. (50 F for scholars) for 30 hours
FranceNet : nice logo, still a bit expensive at 38 F/hour
Internet Way : Classy design, pro operation, ISDN access, rather expensive
ImagiNet : 150 Francs/mo. for 50 hours, neat Gainsbourg pages...
Planète : 165 Francs/mo. for unlimited access