France Telecom is the state telecommunications company, and the only company which can install a phone in your house. Most properties will have a phone already installed. To get the line activated, the easiest thing to do is to go to the local agency. You will need some form of identification and proof that you actually live in the place where you are trying to install a phone. It costs €32 to reactivate a line that already exists, and €47 to install a new one. They will present you with a bamboozling range of special services and different tariffs. The best of these is Primaliste, which costs €3,66 and allows 20 per cent off the six numbers that you call the most. It is worth asking for itemised billing, too, which is usually free. If you are not confident in French, call France Telecom's International Client Service number on 08.00.05.05.75.
You can't avoid using France Telecom to make local calls. Long distance calls outside Paris and international calls are surprisingly expensive. If you make a lot of these calls, it is worth considering the services of a range of companies who offer cheaper international calls.
The Minitel is an old French technology dating from the early 1980s. Users need a special terminal, which plugs in to the phone line. They can then access text-based services, including general information, adverts for jobs and flats, telephone directories, ticket booking, banking and so on.
Minitel was revolutionary in its day, but the technology hasn't progressed much since the 80s and the user interface is quite unpleasant. Worse still, Minitel services are charged by the minute and added to your phone bill. Most of them are very expensive.
Despite the French reluctance to abandon the Minitel, France is slowly opening its arms to the internet. A vast and ever-increasing number of companies offer access. The main service providers are Wanadoo, which is provided by France Telecom, and America On Line. Both include email. Yahoo lists 50 or so other providers, but these are the two most interesting ones.
Wanadoo is free for the first month, and then costs either €15 per month for unlimited access or €7 per month for three hours only. Either visit www.wanadoo.fr or call 08.01.10.51.05. They will send you a free CD-ROM with all the software you need. It will soon be possible to use Wanadoo accounts in other countries.
If you are already a subscriber to AOL or Compuserve, you can use your account in France too. The software should include numbers to dial for access in France. You can also join AOL in France. Once again, €15 per month for unlimited access, with the first month free. AOL has an international network, so wherever you are in the world, you can use it for the price of a local call. They also have slightly better customer service.
Local calls are not free in France, so in addition to your subscription to an internet service provider, you have to pay local phone call rates for every minute you spend on line. France Telecom offers a special rates for calls to the internet.
Alternatively, hard-core internet addicts might consider an internet cable service. This buys you unlimited internet access at a frightening speed, (2 Megabits per second, about one hundred times the speed of a normal modem) for a subscription of €26 per month. A special modem costs €410 to buy outright or €12 per month to hire. The cable is the same as the TV cable, so you can have the telly installed at the same time.
You can pick up five television channels with an ordinary aerial. As in the UK, everyone who owns a television is meant to pay a fee which finances the two state-run channels, France 2 and France 3. However, non-payment is rife. All the channels show a fair number of English and American shows, but they are always dubbed into French. Canal Plus can also be received on a normal aerial, but the prime time programs can only be watched with a decoder.
If you want a wider range of televised entertainment, then you have two choices- cable and satellite.
Cable is only an option for people who live in buildings which are already hooked up to the cable network. Most buildings in the centre of Paris or other large towns are connected, as well as the better-off suburbs. Cable offers English language services including CNN International, BBC World, BBC Prime and, of course, MTV. Prices vary according to which formula you adopt. A typical service would cost €107 as a one-off installment fee, plus €76 deposit and anything from €25 per month depending on which channels you choose.
Otherwise, you can install a satellite dish. This involves a higher initial cost, as a satellite installation will usually cost at least €610 , including a decoder. Once you have these things, you can watch a number of channels, including BBC World for free. Others are broadcast as a scrambled signal, which can only be watched with a special decoder, which you have to pay for.
Satellite also brings a very wide range of radio stations, including all the BBC radio stations plus Virgin and the US National Public Radio.