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Employees to be billed for personal Net use?

Surfers who abuse their privileges "could be issued...a 'please explain' and a bill," suggests an exec at Exinda, a maker of monitoring tools.

Employees who surf the Net at work could receive a bill each month for the cost of borrowed bandwidth and wasted time if Australia-based Exinda Networks' URL- and bandwidth-monitoring system takes off.

Exinda Networks says it's developed a system that allows a company to monitor exactly which Web sites are visited by each employee and how much bandwidth has been used--in terms of a cash loss to the employer.


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Con Nikolouzakis, director of Exinda Networks, said the URL- and bandwidth-monitoring system was designed to ensure that employees are held responsible for the cost of misused bandwidth and time.

"If you use your office computer for Internet banking and booking theater tickets, you're fine. If you choose to use it to download illegal software, research personal interests or other non-business uses, then you could be issued with a 'please explain' and a bill for the costs of the bandwidth and time you wasted," Nikolouzakis said.

According to Nikolouzakis, access to certain sites can be blocked, and bandwidth abusers can have their bandwidth throttled, which would significantly slow that individual's access to the undesirable Web site. Additionally, the employee could be presented with a bill.

"Theoretically, individual employees could be charged a fee for non-business-related Internet usage on a monthly basis, if an employer wanted to get tough on staff abusing their Web access but didn't want to block them altogether," Nikolouzakis said.

However, not everyone agrees that charging employees for personal bandwidth is a good idea.

James Turner, industry analyst for security and services at Frost & Sullivan, said that charging employees for personal bandwidth usage would stir up a hornet's nest because bandwidth is relatively cheap and employees get a "morale boost" from having some freedom to surf at work.

"Most employees sign an acceptable-Internet-usage policy when they join a new company," Turner said. "After that, there is a level of trust between employer and employee. Companies like Computer Associates already have software that can measure an individual's bandwidth usage, so the technology isn't new, and across the market there is not a huge demand."

However, Turner did agree that there is a need for employers to spot the employees that regularly abuse the system.

"The tiny minority of bandwidth abusers are most likely downloading illegal material (such as pirated movies)," Turner said, "and their employers need to be able to detect and stop this for antipiracy reasons. No company wants to be involved in trafficking stolen goods, and storing illegal digital material is an extension of this."

Munir Kotadia of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney.