Tuesday, June 21, 2005


I have been offered liberation. Alice wants to rescue me.

Trouble is, I don't know if I'm going to take her up on it. See Alice is a telecom, one of dozens who are now competing for Germans' business. After what I just went through -- and have been through numerous times in the past year with an increasingly intolerant Deutsche Telekom -- I've vowed to switch telecom providers. And that's turning into a headache.

Oh, everyone wants my business. I used to have to dodge phone pitchsters all day -- including ones from Alice -- because they couldn't believe that a man my age, at home at 2pm, was actually working: I should be retired and getting my pension. So I wound up in the database, and, Germany's supposed iron-clad privacy laws notwithstanding -- the same ones that won't allow Telekom to send you an itemized phone bill (true!) -- I get hit about three times a week.

But how to thread through the competing and conflicting pitches and claims? There are some things I already know. Number one, Deutsche Telekom and I are through. They don't want my business. Number two, Arcor is out. A few years ago, a guy showed up at my front door and told me Arcor would do all kinds of things for free that Telekom was charging me for. I signed up for a trial run, only to discover the next day that each and every thing he had said to me was a lie, and that Arcor was going door-to-door targeting foreigners with poor German skills who, they realized, would have trouble with the fine print on the contracts if they bothered to read it. I sent them a registered letter, they backed off. I have since heard other stories of severe problems with them.

But that only eliminates two players. All I need is a telephone and DSL service. I don't want a cell phone or anything connected with it. I have a cell phone for travel only (or I think I do: Carl mailed it back to me from Japan, so I hope it doesn't get destroyed as a terrorist device), and the rest of the time my trusty answering machine takes messages. You'd think that was easy.

Yesterday I auditioned three players. I picked up a brochure from a storefront that's opened in the neighborhood for Versatel, and I see they offer me three programs, with three different download speeds. Since I don't do much MP3 downloading and no video downloading, how much do I need? And then there's the telephone tariffs. Yup: we pay for local calls here, and it's expensive. Another of the attractions of the new telecoms is cheaper calling. Versatel has a very complicated calling structure, and I haven't heard anything good or bad about them, their advertising blitz notwithstanding.

I looked at Alice's website yesterday, and their offers seem attractive enough -- especially the calling. Three drawbacks, though. One, I hear it takes a month to get hooked up, and I want to get hooked up yesterday. Two, I hear they're owned by Italian Telecom, and have you ever owned any technical product from Italy that, like, worked? And three, there's Alice "herself," the rather blowsy model who is everywhere around Berlin on multi-story ads tacked onto the sides of buildings, on subway posters, in-store displays, and magazine ads, all in really uncomfortable-looking poses. Check out the website, you'll see more of her than you want. I have no idea why this should make me feel negatively about the company, but there you are.

Then there's 1+1, who I'd never heard of, but whose website is unsexy, all business, and has a lot of nice-sounding offers I'm going to have to spend some time with over a hot dictionary. From what I can make out, they'd require me to get a new phone, at the very least, so I could do DSL telephony. Losing the one I have wouldn't exactly be a great tragedy. But...is 1+1 The One?

One thing, though. A friend who's made the switch reports that these companies really do care if their customers are happy. That's gotta spell doom for Deutsche Telekom somewhere down the line...

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