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Friday, March 17, 2006

A danger to capitalism

Companies Fear Spread of March Madness
Web-Broadcast Games Seen as Threat to Productivity, Computer Systems

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 16, 2006; A01

The NCAA men's basketball tournament begins today, and for the first time, every game of the 19-day ritual known as March Madness will be available live -- and free -- over the Internet. The decision makers at Washington's Corporate Executive Board, for one, saw this as a potential recipe for disaster.

With visions of their 1,400 employees glued to their computer screens tuning in to see their favorite teams, the company, which sells management research to firms, has decided to disable access to Web broadcasts of the games. The reason, company officials said, is that this would avoid straining the corporate computer system. It also will keep their workers, well, working.

"When we started to look at it, once you get past the bandwidth issue it's also a business focus issue," said Derek van Bever, the company's chief research officer. "Is there any good reason to run this risk? And the answer is no."

Studies show that productivity wanes every year during the tournament. But 2006 stands to be the biggest hit ever to the workplace thanks to the decision by CBS, whose parent company, CBS, holds the national broadcast rights to the 65-team tournament, to stream the games online at no cost to viewers.

One Washington area employee with a major defense contractor said the company also was making a preemptive strike by disabling computer access to CBS "In our case, we specifically blocked in an automated fashion the part of the site that was the portal to March Madness on demand, preventing us from getting to the CBS SportsLine site," said the employee, who requested that his name and the name of his company not be disclosed because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

The federal government has 1.8 million civilian employees, raising the prospect of the government's business slowing to a crawl -- or its computer systems doing so -- if workers click to the Webcasts from their cubicles. Michael Orenstein, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees federal workplace matters, said each agency sets its own policy on personal Internet use at work.

Howard Tipton, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior, said the department permits its 77,000 employees to have "limited use" of the Internet, so long as it doesn't interfere with their jobs. Only in rare instances -- often because of a disability or other special need -- are employees allowed to view streaming video, he said.

"We're not misers to the point that if somebody runs on there to check the score to see how the Orangemen are doing that anybody would be fired over it," Tipton said. "But we would have a problem if everybody tuned in and did downstreaming video, just from the bandwidth consumption and the cost to taxpayers."

While it's impossible to say how many companies are blocking Web access to the tournament, there is a growing recognition that technology is allowing March Madness to creep further into the workplace.

But you have to have some way of keeping track of the pools

posted by Steve @ 2:14:00 AM

2:14:00 AM

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