The Swiss telephone company once had a monopoly and could and did charge anything they wanted for a phone call. Long, long ago, when I was still in America and Ben would call me, you could hear a light, steady beeping in the background. Each beep cost 10 Rappens (about 4 cents with the exchange course then) and it beeped about 100 times a minute. So, if you talked 5 minutes and you were out of 50 Swiss Francs (about $20 back then and with the exchange today, about $55) and who only talks for 5 minutes? There was no time to enjoy the moment and not say anything – time was money! I would always make a list of things I wanted to say, firstly so I wouldn’t forget anything and secondly, so I wouldn’t waste any money. Needless to say we only called each other on special occasions, otherwise we wrote letters.
When I came to Switzerland, the American telephone market was open and the norm there was push-button, wall telephones with long cords and call waiting functions along with speed dialing among other things. Sometimes you even had a telephone shoulder holder so you could walk around in the kitchen and talk but not hurt your neck from clamping the telephone between your head and shoulder.
When I got over here I thought I had been set back at least a decade. The telephone, was of a generic type. EVERYONE had a light grey table top, dial telephone, usually in the hall next to a chair or telephone table, with no special functions. Everyone had the same grey telephone type because that was what the one telephone company rented out. It was that telephone to that price or nothing.
Slowly the telephone company realized that the people wanted more and they put some official alternatives on the market – to rent, of course, at exuberant prices. But we and a lot of other people rented one of the new phones; a push-button type where you could program 20 numbers. Not a lot, but still. Through travelling to the States the Swiss saw what they were missing and started bringing home ‘forbidden’ telephones. The telephones were forbidden because the telephone company wanted to keep their monopoly and steady income. Then the electronic stores caught onto the craze and started selling phones that could do more, of course not for Swiss use, for export only. Right. “I’m buying this Swiss phone with a Swiss plug to send to my cousin in America.” Then, finally the big monopolic rock started to crumble.
The market was opened, prices fell and things started to normal-out very quickly. I’m glad to say that the Swiss telecommunications market is open and they are no longer lagging behind at all. There is competitive pricing. We have all the newest cell phones, business phones and gadgets that technical invention has to offer. No more forbidden or beeping phones! All is good in telephone-land.
Sometimes even though you think you have everything under control, things can still take an unexpected turn. We have a Swiss friend who had a job for a year in Spain not too many years ago but before the cell phone, Facebook and Skype era began. Just before he was to leave he fell deeply and hopelessly in love. Not wanting to lose contact the two of them did a lot of telephoning. He would call her, then she would call him. Once she said something about how expensive it was getting and he said he would call her because calling from Spain was cheaper – it didn’t look like his bill was going up at all. From then on he did all the calling. It was amazing, his bill stayed about the same amount month after month no matter how much he called. After his year was up and he was getting ready to come back to Switzerland he got a HUGE bill from the Spanish telephone company, he also noticed his landlord seemed to be following him around. Our friend found out the hard way that in Spain the telephone bill is an average of the previous year, at the end of the year you get an additional bill or money back from the total cost then a new average is set for the following year. If you don’t pay the bill, the landlord is obligated to do so, thus the sticky landlord. Our friend paid the bill but said, for the price of the calls he made he could have easily flown home almost every weekend to be with his new love.