France's Minitel, one of the world's first online services, relies on a screen and keyboard console linked to the telephone instead of a personal computer. Since the early 1980s, Minitel has provided users access to financial, shopping and other online services in France, but its Internet access has been limited to electronic messages.
The deal with IBM could end France's isolation from the World Wide Web and enable its Internet usage to catch up to other nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., intends to develop software and parts for new low-cost screen telephones that link to the Internet. The screen phones, to be made by other manufacturers, will sell for about $250 each starting next year. Access fees for the new system haven't been set.
IBM and France Telecom, the national phone company, eventually aim to market the service to other parts of the world where the expense of personal computers poses a barrier to luring people to the Internet.
IBM's new system will be based, in part, on the Java programming language of Sun Microsystems Inc.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.