SAN FRANCISCO (02/23/2000) - American consumers are spoiled. We're used to Sunday shopping and smoke-free restaurants--luxuries you won't easily find in Germany. And you can add cheap, unlimited Internet access to that "not found here" list.
The problem starts with the phone system. In Germany, there is no such thing as a free phone call. Even a call to the house around the corner will cost you by the minute.
This gives Deutsche Telekom AG, the national phone company, control over Internet access. "Even if you get access from someone else, you still have to pay Telekom," explains Timothy Coffey, a graphic artist originally from Nova Scotia and now living in Karlsruhe. The result: Fewer Germans have access. "I go to Canada and everyone's online," Coffey says. "Here no one can afford it."
Coffey pays Deutsche Telekom 8 deutsche marks a month for service (DM 8 equals about $4), plus 3 pfennigs for every minute he spends online (Pf 3 is about 1 1/2 cents). "It makes you think before downloading a large upgrade," Coffey says.
Even if you get access from someone else, you still have to pay Deutsche Telekom. Bjoern Lillequist, a retiree and part-time consultant in Bergisch Gladbach, is a CompuServe subscriber, and pays DM 14 a month for the AOL-owned service. But he still has to pay the phone company. "CompuServe has numbers all over Germany, and one in Cologne, which is a local call for me--about Pf 3 a minute."
"The American style is expensive here because you have to pay for the phone time as well as the monthly fee," explains Marion Scheben, a Postal worker in Mannheim. Because Scheben is not a frequent Internet user, she opts for a service called Internet by Call, where there is no monthly bill at all. But the rate is higher--Pf 4 a minute.
What if you want to go faster than modem speed? Deutsche Telekom is pushing ISDN heavily, at DM 46 a month plus Pf 6 a minute.
The company also offers digital subscriber line, but doesn't seem to want anyone to know. When we visited one of their stores we found ISDN advertised all over, but the DSL brochures were hidden in a drawer behind the counter.
Even with DSL, there isn't unlimited access--the DM 99 monthly fee includes 50 hours.
Cable modem service is not yet available in Germany, but when it is, Deutsch Telekom, which also owns a monopoly on cable television, will be running that as well.
There's a lot to be said for life in Germany. The architecture is beautiful.
The trains run frequently. But it's not the easiest place to get online.
Madeline Prager assisted in research for this article.