Mapping a French Internet Experience

A Decade of Unix Networks Cooperation (1983–1993)

Authored by: Camille Paloque-Berges

The Routledge Companion to Global Internet Histories

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138812161
eBook ISBN: 9781315748962
Adobe ISBN: 9781317607656


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France’s developments in computer communication networks were largely determined by a governmental choice in 1978 to back Transpac, a telecom virtual circuit model, to the detriment of Cyclades, a datagram-based research model, in order to stimulate French telecommunication engineering at an international and competitive level (Schafer 2012; Vedel 1984). After a decade-long institutional battle between the national and monopolistic company France Telecom and the National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control (INRIA), Transpac was launched and set up to host Minitel online services a few years later. While Cyclades’s chief researcher Louis Pouzin was exporting across the Atlantic his datagrams technology to the Arpanet (then to become Internet) team, French computer researchers and engineers were at home, deploying an alternative network based on the Unix operating system. From 1983 on, they developed Fnet, an informal infrastructure used as the local branch of EUNet, the European Unix-based data network run from the Netherlands. Doing so, they “created a computer network social environment […] with the same ingredients that would make the Internet successful later” (Bloch 2013). 1 Open, decentralized, collaborative, heterogeneous, and worldwide: its qualities appealed to the community of computer research and engineering in academic and private labs. Fnet became their unofficial Internet network provider, until the success of the Web brought along commercial and official governmental-promoted new solutions, such as Renater from 1993 on (Schafer and Tuy 2013).

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