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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Baker's dozen - a lesson for broadband

3 for the price of 12? Anyone?

Compiled on KLM 1508 flying Norwich to Amsterdam and dispatched to silicon.com via wi-fi from my Amsterdam hotel a day later

The expression 'a baker's dozen' originated around the 13th century in an early statute instituted by Henry III called the 'Assize of Bread and Ale', which aimed to prevent customers being short changed.

Bakers who didn't provide a full dozen items to buyers could be liable to severe punishment such as losing a hand on an executioner's chopping block. So bakers started the practice of giving 13 for the price of 12 to prevent short measure and being accused of cheating.

A few centuries on from the initiation of the baker's dozen, and we have trading standards funded and operated by the government. Their remit extends far wider than preventing the short changing of customers, and also includes misrepresentation in advertising and supply, some aspects of hygiene, cold calling by telephone and much more.

But when we look at today's ridiculous practice of sellers including those magic words 'up to' in the fine print, they appear to be able to get away with just about anything.

Take broadband service. If two of us purchase a broadband service of 'up to' 8Mbps at £22 per month, and I get 6.5Mbps and you get 2.7Mbps, should we be content, and should trading standards officers let it slip through?

I rather think not!

Think of what this would mean when applied to other products:

Would you accept an unopened pack of Cornflakes sold by weight at 350g that only contains 290g? A new jar of preserves marked up at 450g but has only 220g? A box of a dozen eggs with three missing? A litre of petrol that is only 330ml? Or a pair of trousers with legs which are supposed to be 85cm, yet turned out to be only 46cm? Actually those trousers are a pair of shorts!

It appears that, as long as 'up to' is in the small print, a dozen eggs is really 'up to a dozen eggs'. That seems reasonable, why didn't I get it first time around?

In short: The words 'up to' ought not to be a license for short changing in the supply or trading of anything.

Hands, or heads, on the block anyone?

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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