By distributing terminals that could access a nationwide electronic directory of telephone and address information, it hoped to increase use of the country's 23 million phone lines, and reduce the costs of printing printed phone books and employing directory assistance personnel.Millions of terminals were lent for free to telephone subscribers, resulting in a high penetration rate among businesses and the public.There were still six million terminals owned by France Télécom, which had been left with their users in order to avoid recycling problems.The main uses were banking and financial services, which benefit from Minitel's security features, and access to professional databases.In December 1985 Minitel users made more than 22 million calls, up 400% in one year.In 2005, there were 351 million calls for 18.5 million hours of connection, generating €206 million of revenue, of which €145 million were redistributed to 2,000 service providers (these numbers were declining at around 30% per year).
The service was rolled out experimentally in 1978 in Brittany and throughout France in 1982 by the PTT (Postes, Télégraphes et Téléphones; divided since 1991 between France Télécom and La Poste).
France Télécom estimates that almost 9 million terminals—including web-enabled personal computers (Windows, Mac OS, and Linux)—had access to the network at the end of 1999, and that it was used by 25 million people (of a total population of 60 million).
Developed by 10,000 companies, in 1996, almost 26,000 different services were available.
Minitel sales in the late 1990s accounted for almost 15% of sales at La Redoute and 3 Suisses, France's biggest mail order companies.
In 2005, the most popular Minitel application was Teleroute, the online real-time freight exchange, which accounted for nearly 8% of Minitel usage.