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Licence to con

or: The joys of German telecommunications

Some years ago, the German telecommunications market was opened with the privatisation of Deutsche Telekom, creating a brave new world where, in the words of an ex-colleague from England, "people are treated like shit by Deutsche Telekom and go to a different provider. Then they are treated like shit there and come back to Deutsche Telekom." This is not to say that there is no choice – say, between bad service at cheap prices and bad service at exorbitant prices.

Deutsche Telekom is arguably still the most decent of the lot by a minuscule margin and could almost be called a respectable company — but for the fact that it receives 20 Euros of guaranteed revenue per month from every German household, send demands for payment (entailing an additional fee) to those stupid enough to rely on it to draw payment from their bank as authorised, sends customers order confirmations for services which were never ordered and various other little tricks based on the principle that cheating lots of people out of small amounts is not just lucrative but also unlikely to prompt a lawsuit from any of them. Suffice it to say that if you are ever phoned by Deutsche Telekom without apparent cause, do not say anything and end the call immediately, since statements like "I want to think about that" are liable to be interpreted as a binding order which can only be annulled by calling in person at one of Telekom's stores.

My own web hosting provider, otherwise rather respectable, is practising a creative way of notifying customers of price rises. A table lists all the "new and improved" features, higher storage limits (which rise considerably more slowly than the price of PC hardware falls), with the price rise very effectively hidden at the bottom. Another neat trick is to offer storage space where it is least needed, such as a limit of 1GB for each mailbox, which makes the limits unlikely to be exhausted.

Of an altogether cheekier disposition is the internet service provider 1und1. Next to tactics which would be interesting on their own account — slight but continuous changes for the worse in the purported conditions of an existing contract like appearance of a volume limit, replacement of service personnel with automata, and shifting human service to a different phone number at ten times the price — what is really entertaining about 1und1 is the way it sends customers on wild goose chases regarding contract cancellations. The way to get out of a contract with 1und1 is to write a registered letter and hire a good lawyer. To save you the trouble of taking the alternative route laid out by 1und1, I have described it below in the form of a UML action diagram, in the safe knowledge that its identical twin must have been discussed and approved in the 1und1 boardroom not too long ago.