back to article Software firm bills council over high website traffic

A software firm has unsuccessfully billed a local authority £10,000 after its website received lots of traffic from the council. The bill was based on a claim that Derby Council staff were using a free web tool for work purposes. Entitledto.co.uk is a software firm that produces benefits calculation software. It hosts a free …

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Standard benefit calculations

While it's possible that the excessive number of requests is from public access within their LAN, I can just imagine the position: there is a purchased bit of software which the benefits staff have continual problems with, so one of them says "hey, this one on the web is better than the stuff we have in here".

Actually this highlights the fact that many of these standard council functions could be better met by consolidated web enabled services rather than hundreds of councils all going through an IT procurement process. Entitledto.co.uk have missed the point - rather than presenting Derby with a retrospective bill, they should have offered them a pay-per-use online benefits calculator.

Alternatively, if their benefits calculator that good, I suppose it's too much to expect central government to pay them to develop a FLOSS set of software which councils could use without paying further software royalties?

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It's easy...

Just block their IP address until they pay up.

Putting unfettered, free versions of commercial software on the Web for all to use is a bit thick, though. If I were one of the technical staff of entitledto.co.uk, I would only allow use of the tool after people have signed up and given their e-mail address (verified in the normal way, of course). That way, it's easy to pinpoint offenders who should be paying in cases such as these. It would also be reasonable to give a trial, where the software could be used once per fortnight unless registered and paid for.

But in summary, this is just another example of stupid decision-making from yet another British company, who expects everyone to pay for its mistakes. Not impressive. As the councils, everyone should know they are penny-pinching buggers - and they'll do anything (including oursourcing call centres to India) to save a bob or two. Knowing there are organisations like this out there, it's practically a given that free software on the Web will be used for commercial purposes. This should not be any great surprise to anyone.

Oliver.

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Admittedly, the council is correct about it not being obvious

It's not obvious on the site that it's not for commercial use, however I can't imagine the council can't tell which IPs belong to their offices or libraries.

They could just block access from Derby's subnet and replace the calculator with a page saying that the service has been blocked due to abuse from Council owned services, and give the contact number for Derby Council.

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Anonymous Coward

access barred?

So all who have to use the free internet access in libraries (because they can not afford internet at home) are now barred to access the free benefits calculator. Did Entitledto.co.uk intend that?

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Black Helicopters

Who needs to lose CDs?

These days all you need to get your personal needs and circumstances sent to a disinterested third party is allow a government agency to use your website.

I hate to think how much capital Russia is making from all of this ability.

They have just the sort of secret police they can call out of retirement to collate the data and use it it effectively.

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@John Bayly

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_address_translation ... for example

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Steve Sutton, the wiki-fiddler

Suggesting the bleedin' obvious is one thing, Mr Sutton - given that the council are already using it and Mr Bayly undoubtedly has some clue or he'd not be dishing the sarcasm. But really, anyone reading this organ who doesn't already know what NAT is isn't going to be impressed by a fiddler link. Or be unable to type NAT into the search engine of their choice instead of being guided to your choice of pre-digested pap. Stop boring me into flame in between compiler-runs.

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@Steve Sutton

Are you trying to tell me that the council has one public IP through which their all their office and library traffic is routed?

Derby appears to have 16 libraries: http://www.derby.gov.uk/LeisureCulture/Libraries/Findyourlocallibrary/

I find it seriously difficult to believe that 16 libraries worth of machines (ok, not all may have public computers) + god knows how many admin staff are all SNATed to one address.

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Non-commercial use

Am I the only one who finds it a little sinister that a Council is considered a "commercial" operation.

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Anonymous Coward

@Steve

if council staff use a free service in the course of their duties, thats commercial use as in "in the course of business". Either that, or the council is a charity, in which case any contributions to it should be purely voluntary ....

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@John Bayly

I was merely suggesting one possibility. Frankly, from what I regularly hear about government IT projects, I would believe anything.

@Matthew Joyce

I take it your compiler runs aren't going well.

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Anonymous Coward

@Steve

"Am I the only one who finds it a little sinister that a Council is considered a "commercial" operation"

not sure why you find it sinister. If you care to study history, you'll learn that local authorities developed from private companies who were award a contract for such things as road sweeping, water provision and the like. And if they want to restyle themselves as businesses and talk about CEOs and the like, then they can pony up like anyone else.

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Ed

It's their own fault...

One of Entitledto's meta tags reads:

"EntitledTo is a free web based benefit calculator which calculates a users entitlement to welfare benefits and tax credits."

That's what you see if you google for them. Maybe they ought to change their metas?

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Anonymous Coward

Ignorance is no defence

One assumes Derby Council monitor their internet and restrict use to ensure acceptable use? Surely they noticed the site was being used heavily and investigated why? I'm assuming from their attitude to payment, reading the small print isn't important, I hope people remember that if they ever get a parking ticket in Derby when the signs aren't clear or the rules aren't clear.

It doesn't matter if the users are in the library, councils charge their council tax payers for the provision of libraries they are therefore profiting from them.

I agree with the other posters the site suggests its free and fails to clearly quantify commercial use so they are just as much to blame, who knows maybe they sent Derby Council letters warning them in advance in which case they deserve paying. It is however quite noble of them to make it available free to the public.

Scares me rigid that they use a non paid for solution for line of business applications and to calculate their customers benefits entitlements..

Both parties seem on the face of it to be a lot short of professionalism.

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@AC

"councils charge their council tax payers for the provision of libraries they are therefore profiting from them."

By that logic, no-one would be able to use the free calculator - someone always has to pay for internet access, therefore someone is always 'profiting from it'. Maybe entitledto should be firing off invoices to ISPs while they're at it?

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Anonymous Coward

@John Bayly

It is very possible that the council aggregates all it's traffic through one proxy connection. Not only for kiosks and libraries but also from schools. I know a couple of councils who do just that through line-of-sight links and vpn concentrators. You'd have to ask them why...the answer will probably include the words security and resilience.

On the other hand the scenario where council users find thier own software unusable is also feasible. Many procurements I see are managed by the bean counters with not user/external stakeholder/technical representation. They get what they ask for - which is not necessarily what they want.

(posted anonymously because my name is not unknown in the corridors of Smedley's Hydro...)

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