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The Big Bill


For the first time in my life I recently phoned my local Trading Standards Office. As you might be aware, Sky now offers ADSL Broadband to its customers - a bold and courageous move that could drive AOL out of the UK ISP market. Good riddance say I.

Sky has three speeds of connection. The base is up to 2Mb, mid is 8Mb and Max is 16Mb. The tariff lays out the connection charge and monthly charge along with monthly data caps of 2GB for the Base product and 40GB for Mid. My attention was grabbed by the Max service which allows ‘unlimited* usage’ however the * means this is ‘Subject to Fair Usage Policy’. Sky provides a link on its website where you can read its Terms and Conditions but there is no mention of Fair Usage. As the lesser Mid service allows 40GB per month it is reasonable to assume that Sky won’t get upset unless you’re really hammering the connection. If this limit is, say, 60GB per month then we’re talking about 2GB per day, every day which is fairly industrial and suggests heavy duty file sharing but I couldn’t think of a reason why Sky didn’t simply come up with a figure and make it clear for the world to see.

Therefore, I picked up the phone and called www.consumerdirect.gov.uk to ask whether it was acceptable for a company to put a proviso on its conditions without also publishing details of the proviso. Consumer Direct gave me the number of my local Trading Standards Office where I left a message on the answering machine. An hour or two later I got to speak to an actual Trading Standards Officer. He explained that Sky has its offices in West Lothian so he doesn’t deal with the company but would forward any question to the appropriate office but his provisional opinion of Sky’s Ts&Cs was this; Sky would doubtless have run its legalese past its lawyers so it was a safe bet that it was all legal and above board.

Carphone Warehouse got in a spot of bother with its TalkTalk promotion and was forced to amend its claim of ‘Free Broadband forever’ by Advertising Standards and as I have little doubt that Charles Dunstone can afford lawyers, which suggests that they made an error of judgement about how close they could sail to the wind.

The idea that Sky would inevitably be proven correct seemed like an extraordinary starting position and rather suggests that Trading Standards are far happier looking for bootleg DVDs at car boot sales, rather than taking on Rupert Murdoch but at that very moment I was saved from an apoplectic fit by the arrival of the quarterly electricity bill. Or rather I had a different apoplectic fit because the bill was a monster.

I have to confess that this household has a ruinous number of electrical devices but the kicker is the rise in the unit cost of fuel. Say what you like about unrest in Iraq, Iran and Russia, but oil and gas prices are high and they aren’t coming down any time soon. You know that things are bad when the Americans are getting turned off their beloved SUVs so it’s welcome news that Intel’s new Core 2 Duo processor uses significantly less power than its Pentium 4 predecessor.

It draws less power, despite the fact it is hellishly fast, has two cores and supports Virtualisation, LaGrande security (more on this next month), Execute Disable and EM64T. Intel has made enormous progress with Core 2 Duo while AMD continues to develop Athlon 64. The recent move to DDR2 memory will reduce its power consumption by a small amount and then later this year we have every hope that AMD will move from its current 90nm process to 65nm, which should boost performance while possibly also reducing the power draw.

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