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Chicago Bears fan hit for thirty grand for a bit of Slingbox

And you thought your roaming charges were high

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A hapless Slingbox user managed to run up a data bill of $28,067.31 watching a game of American football, despite being aboard a docked cruise liner and having an unlimited data tariff, thanks to a technical hitch or two.

The story comes from the Chicago Sun-Times, who have managed to get AT&T to credit Wayne Burdick with most of the bill despite his own failure to make the network understand that he should never have been able to run up international roaming charges, of two cents per kilobyte, without leaving the USA.

A Slingbox grabs video from the user's home and streams it over the internet, in this case to a laptop over Burdick's cellular connection which he thought was connected (though a datacard) to AT&T's network. Unfortunately for Burdick he was actually connected to the ship's onboard network, which accounts for the international roaming, and his datacard was unable to display the repeated warnings that AT&T kept sending him over SMS.

Less clear is why the onboard network was operational - ships often offer cellular access, using a microcell connected to a satellite link and billed at international roaming rages. But they are supposed to be switched off when nearing port to prevent interfering with local networks. In fact most ship-based GSM equipment is fitted with GPS to prevent it being used within range of a land network, so the onboard network shouldn't have been in operation at all.

When Burdick received the bill he complained to AT&T, who eventually offered to reduce the bill down to $6,000 - hardly comparable to the $220 he reckons is average. Luckily the chaps over at the Sun-Times were able to argue his case, and AT&T has credited Wayne with $27,776.66, though really it shouldn't have taken media involvement to fix a case like this.

Roaming rates like that, without even leaving the country, make the EU look like a haven for the international traveler - perhaps once Ms Reding has battered EU operators for unreasonable behaviour, we can ship her over the pond to sort out the septics. ®

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