Personal Net use at work: Should you pay?

commentary So, work's a bit slow.Your mind wanders and you start thinking about updating that digital music collection.

commentary So, work's a bit slow.

Your mind wanders and you start thinking about updating that digital music collection. You head over to and spend 30 minutes downloading some free music. Well pleased with your beefed up catalogue of music files, you wearily turn back to your spreadsheets. Next morning, you come in to work to see a small white envelope. It is a bill, with two items. Bandwidth and time costs for the period during which you were exploiting's offerings. As you choke on your cappuccino, you notice a second envelope from the human resources department. It contains a typewritten note inviting you to explore the vast career possibilities that lie beyond your present employer. Immediately.

This scenario leapt to mind this week as a result of two stories: an Australian company enthusiastically touting its bandwidth monitoring system and the long list of government departments, both here and in the United States, whose employees visited the mp3s4free Web site during a 12-day period in October last year. (According to the investigators involved, the log files seized to date site do not actually show users were downloading anything they shouldn't have been. Apparently they only showed "actions that referred to downloads, not actually downloads". Hmmmmmmmmmm.) Now while the bandwidth monitoring company's plans reek of overkill, the number of government agencies whose employees visited in less than two weeks indicates (on face value) that acceptable use policies regarding the Internet are being widely disregarded. (Of course, if there are legitimate government projects in Australia and the US that require visits to, I am happy to be corrected. Be curious to know what justifiable interests the Reserve Bank of Australia or the US Department of Agriculture would have in the Web site, though).

Should employers be able to bill employees for personal Internet usage? What punishments should be meted out to employees who breach acceptable use policies (and how should those punishments be graded depending on the nature of the offence? E-mail us at and let us know.

  • By the way, on the subject of bandwidth and the Internet, it was interesting to catch the latest in the brawl between Telstra and Unwired over the telecommunications powerhouse's ADSL coverage in Sydney. After being assailed with Telstra's legal might, Unwired has agreed not to repeat representations that Telstra's ADSL coverage in the NSW capital is around the 75 percent mark. (Telstra insists the true figure is closer to 96 percent). However, after ZDNet Australia  published the story, broadband industry observers immediately questioned the Telstra figure, saying many people within the supposed coverage area were being denied access to ADSL due to incompatible equipment (pair gain etcetera). If you're within a coverage area, yet can't get broadband Internet, we'd love to hear from you at the above e-mail address.