Who pays for teleworkers' network connections?

Federal employees who telework in a home office often pay for their own network connectivity, a monthly expense that could be viewed as a subsidy to their departments, speakers said at a Telework Exchange Town Hall meeting on May 2.

From the agency point of view, home office connectivity is a free service, said Peter Tseronis, chief technology officer for the Energy Department, who led a session on mobility. Now that teleworking is becoming more popular, there likely will be more discussion about such questions, he suggested.

“If I telework at home, who pays for my Internet Service Provider?” Tseronis said. “We need to start talking about issues like that.”

At the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, about 4,000 recruiters have been issued government-owned mobile devices, including tablet computers, allowing them to work primarily in their homes.

The recruiters arrange and pay for their own home Internet networks that they use for work, said Robert Brown, assistant chief of staff.

“We do not force folks to telework. But if they do, they sign an agreement that they will have network connectivity at home,” Brown said. “It has not been a problem.”

For a few specialized workers who require more bandwidth and other special features in their Internet service, the recruiting command provides them with a subsidy, he added.

Many other federal agencies have similar arrangements. Cindy Auten, Telework Exchange general manager, suggested that many teleworkers are happy to pay for home connectivity because of the many benefits of telecommuting. “We’ve seen that teleworkers are often open to sharing the cost of connectivity in exchange for the flexibility of being able to work anytime and from anywhere," Auten said.

At the same time, a significant number of agencies are supporting home Internet for teleworkers, either partially or fully. A recent survey by the exchange showed that while 64 percent of federal agencies do not subsidize home Internet for teleworkers, 35 percent do offer such subsidies to some extent. 

Nonetheless, other speakers and audience members at the town hall suggested there could be gray areas about such arrangements: Is it fair to ask workers to subsidize the costs of their own connectivity for their jobs? What if Internet goes down at home and the employee is unable to work?

“If I am without Internet at home when I am supposed to be teleworking, what is the impact on me? What if something like that should happen?” an audience member asked in a question-and-answer session at the town hall meeting.

Casey Coleman, chief information officer for the General Services Administration, said one of the advantages of teleworking is flexibility, so that if a worker is without Internet at home, coming into the office that day would be a solution, she suggested.

At the GSA’s new headquarters, where there will be 2,000 seats for 4,000 people, employees will be expected to book arrangements for shared office space. The workers will have a choice of open space in a large room with other workers, or behind closed doors in a private office. The private offices are intended for those who require more concentration and quiet for certain types of work, Coleman said.

The town hall meeting was sponsored by the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership that promotes the benefits of telework.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Fri, May 11, 2012 Joshua Billington Telework Advocacy

From a broader, strategic perspective, perhaps the discussion should extend beyond simply “who is paying for this” to “who is managing it”. It’s easy to shift costs to the employee, since most have residential broadband connections already and are willing to pay in exchange for the opportunity to work from home, but oversight, service and support for that connection are then left to the employee. Would a federal agency (or any private enterprise) require that each employee obtain and manage the internet connection at their cubicle within the corporate office? Certainly not. Then why is it procedure to shift all connectivity management onto the shoulders of a teleworker? The connection should be owned, managed, monitored, supported by the agency and subject to business-class service level agreements, just like it is in the office, even if the individual employee is paying for it.

Tue, May 8, 2012 DC

Parts of GSA (if not all) used to pay for DSL lines for full-time teleworkers only and those lines were to be used only for official duties. When revised telework rules went into effect in 2007, that went away and folks were supposed to go get their own. I know one person who didn't want to pay so started using the GSA offered dial-up connection then complained loudly about how hard it was to get things done at home because it was so slow. Needless to say, he got no sympathy.

Mon, May 7, 2012

It seems this article and commentary place most of the emphasis on the teleworker and how it is of benefit to them to telework. That is true and many who are eligible to telework like it. In fact, they don't want to challenge any issue for fear of losing the flexibility. On the other hand, worker flexibility is not what was behind the initial talks of telework. Less traffic, less emissions, less space required (an office capable of housing 2000 employees for a staff of 4000). There are also great benefits to the agency if people telework (not to mention being able to have an expert on staff from across the country). The solution needs to be win-win and not twisted to threaten workers to pay for your connection or don't telework. What happens when connectivity is lost at the office? Do we send workers home to work or give them administrative leave? Share the cost so both win is the only way.

Mon, May 7, 2012 SOTE Contractor Federal Agency

The worker must provide their own internet connectivity, their own computer system, their own software. But, of course, it MUST all have the blessing of the Peter Tseronis' of this world. Such blessings are really only given to god's chosen (Feds) but heaven-forbid a contractor uses anything but blessed setup when something goes worng. After all, contractors can never do anything right anyway.

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