RealTime IT News

French Internet Use Growing by 7 Percent Every Month

Internet use in France lags behind the U.S. and other parts of Europe, but is gaining at the rate of 7 percent monthly and has doubled since 1997, according to a survey by Mediangles, a French-language media study group.

At present, there are only 2.5 million French Internet users out of a population of 60 million. By comparison, 5.9 million Germans out of a population of 81.6 million are online.

An editor who follows the market closely believes Internet use in France should begin to take off by the middle of 1999.

"We're still a long way behind, but we're catching up," says Olivier Magnan, who heads .Net, a French-language monthly with a circulation of 40,000.

"Internet business is still ridiculously low as a percentage of what's done on the Minitel or over the phone, certainly less than 5 percent," Magnan said. "But until very recently, the number of companies making Internet-based sales was virtually zero. Now thousands are going online every month or so."

Meanwhile public awareness of the Internet is widening--Internet cafs are popular and thriving in Paris, major radio stations and newspapers advertise their Web addresses and SNCF, the national railroad, publishes its fares and timetable on its site. Service improvements, better connections and lower prices are having an effect.

Almost all French companies have realized that they have to at least have a Web site, Magnan said.

"I would say 2-3 percent now offer a way to pay for products on the Internet, but by mid-1999 that should be up sharply," he said.

Another factor affecting Internet use is cost and ease of access. In its latest issue, .Net catalogs and ranks 220 ISPs according to price and service. Access has gotten significantly cheaper in the last two years, ranging from monthly rates of FF50 (about $9) to FF500 for unlimited access. However, many companies still charge one-time application fees ranging >from FF50 to FF1500 and a local phone call costs up to 5 cents per minute.

The largest ISP is France Telecom's Wanadoo with 400,000 subscribers. On its heels is the giant group Vivendi CGE, which owns the local AOL and CompuServe subsidiaries. Combined, these two American giants have 300,000 to 350,000 subscribers. Club-Internet, a Grolier-Hachette project, and Infophonie have about 100,000 each. Thh other players are much smaller.

"It's unlikely any small ISP will shake things up in France," said Magnan. "In fact, market shares are concentrating rather than breaking up. France Telecom controls the infrastructure, so everybody has to rent from them. They're also doing everything they can to slow the buildup of cable access. Vivendi's ISPs have the most money at their disposal and should also expand rapidly."