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Hope of cutting through small print gets fuzzy

webwatch

AJ buildings editor Barrie Evans had a grin on his face when he handed me a paper. 'Don't bother about the maths, ' he said kindly. Don't bother indeed.

The paper and the reason for the grin was the title: The Rise of Consumer Price Obfuscation in Social Networks: Mobile/ Cell Phone Charging, and the maths involved dimensional vectors, simulated annealing and, for a while at least, a software programme called TelTk.

The author is the polymath computer scientist Prof Les Hatton, whose middle son is training to be an architect. The other reason why this paper is of interest to us is its possible extensions to the field of choosing an internet service provider (ISP). Readers may remember me promising to reveal which broadband ISP I was moving to and why. The move has been stalled since then because of price obfuscation. Hatton found 'a staggering level of complexity' with mobile-phone tariffs 'which seems to be accelerating', and that 'the chances of a salesperson giving reasonably correct advice is basically non-existent'. So he set up a programme with around 1,000 users and reckons 80 per cent of his users could each have saved around £300 over a year.

Anybody who has tried to understand broadband costs will feel a sudden yearning to switch Hatton's focus of attention to this equally complex area.

Not only do you have to think about how much speed you need, but how much data you are allowed to download each month (many ISPs charge low basic rates and charge the earth for anything more than a trickle of download data), and whether you will be thrown off the service for overusing it.

And what is the ISP's relationship in the local exchange (where your lines are changed) between BT and newcomers. Will Hatton come to the rescue? Probably not. His most recent paper title starts well, 'Consumer Price Obfuscation', but ends 'and Fuzzy Global Optimisation'. He has moved on to much higher things.

sutherlandlyall@btinternet. com

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