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June 2000

Deutsche Telekom

Inexpensive phone rates need not apply

“Why pay more?” With this slogan — and the Pink Panther — Deutsche Telekom promotes its AktivPlus tariff for analog and ISDN users. For a fixed charge of DM 9.90 per month, local calls are cheaper: 6 Pf a minute weekdays from 9:00 to 18:00; 3 Pf at other times. Rates for long-distance calls, international calls and calls to D1 mobiles are also reduced. The consumer magazine Test has recommended AktivPlus for people who phone a lot.

So far, so good. However, things don’t always work as they should. I applied for AktivPlus on January 31, as part of the T-ISDN 300 tariff. This was confirmed in writing by Telekom a day later, to take effect from February 15. However, my bill from March 9 showed that, although the DM 9.90 charge had been applied immediately, the cheaper rates had not.

After countless attempts to get through on the toll-free “service” numbers and an overdose of Telekom’s irritating “hey, hey, hey; hallo, hallo, hallo, hallo” jingle, I finally reached an operator. She told me Telekom had “coordination” problems with the company’s higher fixed charges and lower calling rates. A refund would be made with my next bill. Not the exact amount — “We can’t work out all the calls to which the lower rates should have applied” — but “slightly more or slightly less.” My April 7 bill contained no refund, however. Worse still, next to none of my March calls were charged at AktivPlus rates. After numerous further attempts to reach Telekom — probably Germany’s least accessible company by phone — an operator gave me more details of their problem. “Four weeks after the DM 9.90 charge starts, we get a list of customers for whom the lower rates haven’t been activated. It then takes eight to ten days to sort this out.” In my case, “Aktiv”Plus was inactive until March 28, six weeks after Telekom had started charging for it. Once again, a refund was promised.

Inquiries to Telekom’s press office proved Kafkaesque. “How many people have AktivPlus?” — “I can’t tell you.” “How long does it take to apply the lower rates?” — “They take effect immediately.” “They don’t always; your colleagues say there is a coordination problem.” — “There are no problems. AktivPlus is very successful.” “Then why do your employees say there is a problem?” — “There are no problems. We would never charge for services we weren’t providing.” “How long do customers have to wait to get through to your service numbers?” — “We have no statistics for this. It wouldn’t be appropriate. Everything’s under control.”

What can you do? Read your bills carefully. Forget the toll-free numbers. Instead, call (089) 550010 with queries or complaints. Insist on an immediate refund if the lower rates have not been applied.

Finally, keep complaining about Telekom’s miserable customer service; the number in Bonn is (0228) 1810. Employees on the front line know how bad things are. “That’s exactly how I feel,” one told me after I suggested they needed more operators. “We just wish something would be done about it.” Since 1996, Telekom has shed 60,000 jobs.

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