Municipality of Jönköping – home of the porn surfers?

November 22, 2009

Dagens Nyheter aswell as the local newspaper JönköpingsPosten reports that the municipality of Jönköping (the city in which I live) has concluded that as much as 80% of it’s Internet capacity (bandwidth) is being used for sharing files online. Also, they have estimated that around 1300 work hours monthly are being spent on non-work related Internet surfing (porn, gambling online etc). This has lead to a lot of comments on the article from people who are furios with what they believe to be proof of the misuse of resources and tax money by the city. Their view generally is (no surprise here) that working people, especially the ones working for the state or the city, are lazy and disloyal. Voices are already being raised to implement censorship policies for the municipality network.

I have encountered this political slur so many times before, both from listening to my parents (who run their own company and therefore have that mandatory lack of belief in the tax financed welfare state) and from clients who wish for me to censor and/or cap their employees access to the Internet. In my view, they all to often let their feelings take precedence over their reason and becasue of that they fail to put things in a broader prespective. I am of course not surprised by these standard reactions from ignorant people; in my view, they are often the same kind of people as the right-wingers or so-called liberals that never misses out on a chance to bash public spending, regardless of context. I can’t decide which I’m most disappointed of, however, the people responsible for the research or the journalists who publish it without asking the right questions. I will try not to turn this post into a personal left-right discussion (well, I kind of allready did that a few lines up…) so let’s focus on WHY the article is misleading:

1. Employees and highschool kids = apples and pears
First off, one needs to remember that the numbers presented are based on the total Internet usage of the municipality. This means both the traffic originating from the municipality administration (the so called “A-net”) and the public schools (the “U-net”). The amount of bandwidth consumed by employees and high/elementary school kids respectively are not presented seperately in the article, which is likely to mislead an avarege citizen of Jönköping with little insight into how the system is built. The municipality connects to the Internet from the same point regardless of where within the system the traffic originates.It is well known (?) that kids, especially teenagers, use the Internet in radically different ways than their parents. That 80% of an avarage high schools bandwidth is used for surfing porn and/or youtube should not come as a very big surprise. Even if you take an avarage swede as a comparison, you will soon find that an 80% degree usage of the Internet connections for porn and file sharing is in fact a pretty low number. In conclusion, 80% of the total municipality bandwidth is not necessarily used by the administration/employees; most likely the kids are responsible for the greater part of it.

2. There is no proof that “legitimate” Internet usage suffers
Now even if 80% of the Internet capacity is really being used for file sharing, it does not proof that “legitimate” traffic suffers performance from it. Real problems arise only when unwanted traffic throttles the performance of desired traffic. Just becasue you spend 80% of your bandwidth on Youtube or on streaming porn doesn’t mean that you would have used the same amount for work related activities if you hadn’t. One might argue that the municipality is then spending way to much money on excess bandwidth, but it is important to remember that a system should never be dimensioned after it’s expected avarage demands, but on it’s expected maximum demand for performance. Even if the amount of bandwidth is way beyond the current need for “legitimate traffic”, I know from first hand experieance that this will, wihtout exception, change over time.

3. What the 1300 work hours translates to in practice
It is stated that 1300 work hours is being “wasted” by people surfing porn and using gambling or (my own guess) social networking sites like Facebook. It is not at all unlikely that all of the people working for the municipality of Jönköping together spends 1300 hours each month on non-work related surfing. Actually, I would have expected a greater number. Be that as it may, the real question is whether it poses a problem or not? I believe that the time that employees now “waste” on surfing during work hours equals the time that they used to spend hanging around chatting at the coffee machine before they had access to the Internet. What it all boils down to is that if they can manage to surf for porn and/or gambling sites online at work and still make their deadlines, what’s the problem? Perhaps they have to little to do at work from the beginning? Censoring and monitoring your employees Internet usage will lead to real issues with trust and lojalty, and for an organisation with thousands of employees that is way more harmful for productivity than 1300 “wasted” work hours. Any moral objections regarding specific usage of gambling or porn sites can be rejected by the fact that they are just moral objections; these are well known to change over time. As always, the moral arguments are being used as a last resort by people who fail to present hard facts.

4. Most importantly – the objective view of the IT-society
If one would look objectively on the impact of IT in our lives – has productivity increased or decreased since the introduction of computers and Internet into our society? I think, even with free access to porn and facebook, society has gained enourmosly from the Internet. To summarize my view of this whole business, I think that it is inevitible that access to the Internet will be used by employees both for the intended work and the unintended fun. By monitoring and censoring their freedom to choose we stand to loose a lot more productivity due to disatisfaction about them being censored than we do from them surfing porn at work every now and then.

You have anything to say about this summary? Well, bring it on then! 🙂

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