Sunday, October 30, 2005

Adventures with the Telephone

As in the US, there are two basic types of phone here: land lines and cell phones. Unlike in the US, however, many people still don’t have land lines and pretty much everyone has a cell phone. This is because the venerable Český Telecom was so slow about installing phone service (I know people who were waiting for their phone fourteen years after requesting service) that when cell phones came along, everyone said the hell with Český Telecom and bought a cell phone. As in the US, there are countless types of plan for both types of phone, but my impression is that most people here (myself included) simply buy a pay-as-you-go type of cell phone credit. As your credit goes low, you pay for another 400Kč or so. And, although I don’t really understand very much about my cell phone (why, for instance, did it suddenly take to using a musical ring tone while I was on the bus to Útery, when I have always had it set to vibrate?), I am capable of checking its credit and buying more.
On the whole, Czechs are much more pleasant about their cell phone use than Americans are. In part, this is because Czechs are more polite in general. But it is also because it is much cheaper here to send a text message than to make a voice call. This means that Czechs are constantly, but relatively inaudibly, on the phone. You do not call someone just to chat, but you do spend a great deal of time sending text messages. Sometimes it seems as though it would be simpler just to call and get it over with, but that lures the participants into having a conversation, and next thing you know, the credit you expected to last you a couple of weeks has vanished.
Then there’s the issue of internet. Many Czechs don’t bother to have internet access at home, or use it rarely. At the same time, there are numerous options for getting connected, which (as in the US) depend on where one lives and what one needs. Český Telecom, for instance, does offer dialup service but does not seem to mention this anywhere on its English-language web pages, nor does it reveal the access number on its Czech pages. The phone here has this service, but I have no idea what the access number is, unless Sandra has become more familiar with her computer and has figured out what her friend put in. So, I’ve been using a Prague Compuserve access number, which has a $6/hour surcharge. I was waiting to find out whether this was charged by Compuserve or Český Telecom; the answer seems to both. After looking at this month’s phone bill, I am in immediate need of a better option. Online grant proposals and library/archival catalogues can eat up a lot of connection time, as do, for that matter, web searches to try to figure out why my laptop no longer notices wi-fi network signals other than the ubiquitous (and useless) MSHOME (which seems to be everywhere). What, after all, is the use of having a “wireless ready” laptop if it no longer tells me that I could log into TMobile, Telerama, or the free system at the Národní knihovna? Oh well. After several hours of (online) research, I have concluded that Český Telecom’s current high-speed offer is probably the best option, but I am hesitant to switch Sandra’s telephone service to it until she says it sounds like a good idea. She does not have long to respond before the offer expires and I will have gone ahead and done it for our mutual benefit.

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