Internet in France

How to get the access to the net

Internet usage in France is high. If you're studying at a university in France, you will probably have free internet available there, although computers might be limited.

If you are working in an office, you will probably have internet access too. However, some companies restrict web usage to e-mail access. If you don't have access to the internet at home, school, or work, then an internet café is the next best thing.

Fortunately, internet access in France has drastically advanced in recent years, and all companies offer very competitive rates with a wide variety of bundles and deals to meet your needs. Up until recently, dial-up access was the more reliable and popular form of internet, but nowadays it is much more likely to encounter ADSL connections just about everywhere. The best thing about the advances made in internet are that now you can easily compare prices online to see the best deal for your specific requirements and budget.

High-speed access (ADSL, cable)

ADSL is now standardized in almost all areas of France.

There are many providers in France, all competing by offering better and better offers. -for example, Orange’s cheapest deal is 8 megabytes for 21 euros a month. With some companies, Orange amongst them, you may need to get a home phone line in order to get an internet package.

Many offers also have free installation, but watch out for minimum contract terms. Shop around for the best deal and if you are a student check if there is a special deal for you. You can also get cheaper phone calls from some providers.

Once you have ADSL connection with one of these companies, you can also use WiFi. These companies provide many WiFi “hotspots” that are free for their subscribers.

A WiFi hotspot is any place where a WiFi connection can be accessed, and some companies even have them in public parks. More commonly though, they will be found in hotels or restaurants

Dial-up access

Dial up access has fallen out of favor with the faster, more accessible ADSL offers
But, if you are in an area where ADSL is not easily accessible, dial-up is a good option. The majority of dial-up ISPs (Internet Service Providers) offer three types of access:

  • a pay-as-you-go service (with free access, you pay for the local phone call)
  • a flat rate service which means you pay a fixed amount per month for unlimited access through a free phone number

You can organise access by telephone or online.

Internet cafés

These can usually be found easily, especially in city centres. Although, now with internet access becoming so much more easily attained and rates becoming more competitive, internet cafes are becoming less common. Some stores and calling centres have a few computers with access for their customers. The best places for access in terms of speed and price tend to be the larger Internet cafés (20+ computers). Look in the directory to find locations.

Costs vary from €1.50-5.00. Fees tend to give you access to the computer and Internet. Just about everything else might carry an extra charge: e.g. printing, scanning, CD-Rom burning, etc.

Warning: Internet cafés are popular targets for thieves and pickpockets particularly in the centre of large cities. Keep an eye on your valuables at all times.

Further reading

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Other comments

  • vpi, 22 January 2011 Reply

    Outdated article

    The offers in France have considerably evolved. Today all providers are providing triple-play offers at rougthly 30 euros/month (32 euros/month in next February 2011 due to tax changes).

    Also, you don't need to subscribe a France Telecom analogic phone line (not even when subscribing to Orange's services).

    You don't need to buy a modem, it is provided for free (or you can rent it for 3 euros/month for Orange), to benefit from VoIP and HDTV ; you also get the HDTV set-top box.

    ADSL is standardized in almost all areas. Fiber accesses are getting offered in Major metropolitan areas. The bundle offers all include an unlimited call plan for telephone (nationwide) and to US, Canada, and most of the European Union, and very often other destinations worldwide.

    All DSL and cable accesses offer you a bundle of about one hundred channels (including major international channels like CNN International, BBC World, Fox News, France 24 English, and various languages : Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Polish...)

    The main offers come from:
    - Orange.fr (France Telecom subsidiary) : ADSL up to 20Mbit/s, or fiber in major cities. You may combine it with a mobile phone subscription plan.
    - SFR.fr : very similar offer, this is the second largest provider ; there are separate plans for mobile phones (it is also the second mobile phone provider)
    - Free.fr : the third challenger that has lead the innovation and increased the services as well as reduced the prices. It was the fist one to develop a triple-play offer with a free DLS box; now offers fiber accesses (same price as ADSL) in some areas.
    - Bouygtel.fr : a competitor that is the fourth Internet access provider, but that proposes a bundle including a mobile phone plan in a single billing, so it is the first true quadruple-play.
    - Numericable : the only provider for cable access (now being converted to FTB accesses), and the current leader of fiber accesses with the most important number of cities (but in Paris there are several competitors for fiber accesses).

    All these offers are very comparable, the difference of pricing per month is small, and there's little or no difference of performance for the same location.

    Additionally, you'll get some additional services like free music download offers, multiple email accounts, free personnal webpages, free online storage (several gigabytes).

    Note however that customer support is provided in French (it may be difficult to get support in English), from call centers located in France or in North Africa.

    These offers may be subscribed online (but you need a bank account in the European Union or an international credit card, billed in Euros), or bought in street shops (you get the modem immediately and start surfing after just a few days, sometimes even on the next day). Mobile phones can be activated in just a few minutes.

    Note however that most scubscription plans must be subscribed for at least one year to get the best price. You normally don't pay the subscription immediately, just the first month of billing (but then you'll often get two free months of subscription). Note that unsubscribing may be costly, if you unsubscribe from them before hte term (but now all providers are also taking the unsubscription costs in charge if you want to change your provider) ; you may also have to pay a warranty for the HDTV decoder (this will be reimbursed when you unsubscribed, or after the end of your initial minimum term).

    It is very simple to compare the services for Internet accesses; it is much more complex for mobile phone plans (many options).

    Cable and fiber access is much more difficult to find and longer to install (they are not available in all places, even within the same cities)

    Internet cafés are disappearing in most cities. They have been mostly replaced by mobile Internet (through 3G networks of mobile phone providers), but mobile access are not illimited (additional costs per megabytes after about 10 Gbytes/month are billed) and may be slow.

    If you can, use Wifi, because there are really a lot of WiFi hotspots in France if you are roaming. The reason is that ADSL boxes are also acting as Wifi hotspots, and most users are activating this feature: accessing to these hotspots is free for subscribers of the same ISP. SFR has partnered with FON so that you can use your existing FON or SFR account to connect to one of those millions of hotspots. Many restaurants and malls are also providing free hotspots.

    In addition, almost all hotels (two stars or more, as well as all chains of hotels) are offering a WiFi hotspot (but they are not always free : you may have to pay about 10 euros for 24 hours of access with unlimited traffic, notably for the cheapest hotels). These commercial hotspots are frequently billed and operated by Orange (you may buy them directly online by connecting to the hotspot, or by buying a ticket from the hotel reception to scratch containing an access code), but now many of them are allowing to select the roaming access provider (notably if you already have an other account for your home, and in that case you may benefit from reduced prices, or some free time, e.g. with your own FON subscriber account).

    Don't use roaming for mobile phones in France with your existing foreign provider. It is much more valuable to buy a SIM card in tobacco resellers or press kiosks and use prepaid communications from one of the many mobile phone offers : for these offers, you may get them with a cheap mobile phone as low as about 15 euros.

    There are lots of internet sites allowing you to compare the prices of mobile phones, or to select the ADSL/cable providers in your area if you have to reside here.