Bruce Perens and Richard Stallman to speak in Belfast

FOSS Means Business.

As DW writes over on his page, Bruce Perens and Richard Stallman are coming to Belfast in March 2006 for a FOSS event.  I will simply repeat DW’s post as we need to get more publicity for this event.

DW wrote:

Ciaran O’Riordan of the Free Software Foundation Europe has announced that Bruce Perens and Richard Stallman will be coming to Belfast to speak on March 16th at the Spires conference center in the city. More
information can be found at the FOSS Means Business web site.

This promises to be a really interesting event to attend, if for no other reason than to listen to Stallman’s GPL v3 advocacy talk. It is a very rare opportunity for you to come along and learn more about what is perhaps one of the most defining moments for free software this decade.

Entrance, thus far, appears to be free, or at least very cheap.

I’ll try to go and capture photographs of the event.

Qmail vs qmail – anality in spelling

I noticed a referrer to my "Qmail is dying" article from where the author, Wayne Marshall,  refers to my post as "Qmail (sic) is dying".  For the record Wayne, I’m neither American, nor in America.

The obvious inference is that Qmail is not the correct spelling of qmail.  Lowercase vs Uppercase.

All I can say – if that is what you are reduced to in order to try to discredit an author then you are on very shaky ground.

Ignoring the obvious "Proper noun" grammatical issues, if you happen to search the  qmail Mailing List Archives (retained spelling from the site) the earliest reference I could find for someone saying it is "qmail, not Qmail" is 2001.   Many of us were using Qmail 8 years ago and nobody "corrected" it until several years later.  Too late.

If you also check the reference site, you’ll find many references to Qmail – including Dave Sill’s "Life With Qmail" – I’d love to see if the first version of this referred to Qmail or qmail. 
Now the self serving qmail elitists push the "qmail" capitalisation. Who cares?

Ironically, the author also lists three 3rd party patches to fix "bugs" and declares "qmail seems pretty healthy to us".  Scary.  And people bitch at Microsoft for taking months to fix a bug.  We’re 8 years on with qmail and if Dan can’t bring himself to patch 4 lines of the code to fix 3 acknowleged bugs in qmail then I would counter that qmail is not in a healthy state at all.

Birds again

Found a couple of semi-interesting picks of some birds in my photo archive and through I’d throw them on here.

The local church flock :)

And an unintended shot of a bird on a street light as I was photographing and EasyJet plane flying overhead.

FOI Request #2, DETINI – The final response + Redacted Contract

On 16th December, the 20th day, according to the revised timeline due to the DETI NI’s spam filter delaying my emails for some reason I received an email reply answering my appeal for the BT contract information.

I have not yet fully read and digested the response, however my inital reaction is one of disappointment that the request was not fully met. The supplied contract is severely redacted. Why is it deemed the SLA information commercially confidential?

I have several issues with the reply, which I shall deal with in a subsequent post. But for now, the reply and the redacted copy of the contract.

I am releasing this today to coincide with a Press Release from DETI NI that declared the BT contract to be completed and that NI has 100% broadband coverage.

Internal Review Decision Letter to Mr Paul Gregg – BT Broadband Contract – IR 004.PDF
BT Broadband Contract (Redacted Version) – IR 004.PDF

New: I have OCRed the document and created an HTML version. Note that OCR isn’t perfect and I have not proofed it so refer to the original PDF for any queries.  The HTML version is provided for ease of use and searching.
BT Broadband Contract (Redacted Version) – IR 004-ocred

I would welcome some legal comment (free of charge of course) as to DETI NI’s signing a Confidentiality Clause in a major contract when they were aware* of their FOI obligations in respect of Confidentiality Clauses in contract.

* Information Commisioner Survey from NI Depts dated December 2003 – 3 months prior to the BT contract which stated: "The majority of respondents report that the Central Procurement Service manages NICS contracts with private sector suppliers. As a result, the Central Procurement Service is reviewing the existing procedures with regard to the removal of confidentiality clauses."

Or more specifically:
��we would like additional assistance in the form of more detailed interpretation of the FOIA exemptions, and in particular those relating to information provided in confidence (s41), commercial interests (s43), and prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs (s36).�
– Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment

Do you live in NI and can not yet get broadband?

If so, I want to hear from you.

Today, DETI NI announced that Northern Ireland is now the first region in Europe to have 100% broadband coverage.

Correction for editors on the above Press Release.  The contract was awarded to BT in March 2004 – not 2003 as the PR states.

Please contact me if you have been denied a broadband order since 1st January 2006.

If you have been denied prior to 2006, then by all accounts you should not be denied again – order again – they have 100% coverage now, right?

FOI Request #2, DETINI – Another reply – Track Changes reveals all

Today, (2005/12/07) I received yet another email.   However this time the attachment was in Microsoft Word format.   Turning on Track Changes revealed some enlightening information.  Did they receive my appeal on time (on the 9th November) and realise that they couldn’t make the 20 day deadline?  Also the deleted information says that they have already denied my appeal – but the text that replaced the deleted information says that they need more time.

I also notice that someone from the DETI NI has taken it upon themselves to check my blog every day prior to 9am (is this the first task on their schedule?) – so for now I have decided to move all these posts to a private area until I receive the full response from DETI NI.

Judge for yourself:

Page 1:

and more interestingly the "deleted" Page 2.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI acknowledgement of appeal

Today (2005/11/21) I received the following acknowledgement, dated 2005/11/18, via email as a PDF document (containing an image).  This is one week after my appeal that I know they received (see earlier posting).

They appear to be taking the 20 days from the date of their acknowledgement letter instead of the day after they receive the request (or appeal).

It isn’t very exciting so if you are interested, here is a link to the PDF document

More when I have it.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI – The appeal.

Today I appealed against the DETI NI’s refusal to grant my FOI request for details of the BT 100% broadband contract.

Here is the content of the appeal:

Subject: Appeal against decision on FOl 062

Dear Trevor,

Thank you for your letter of 2 November 2005.  It has been a number of
years since we last spoke. I hope all is well with you.

I write to appeal your decision to withhold full responses on questions 1
and 3 of my request. Please understand this email as an official request for
an Internal Review of your decision.

I do not believe that DETINI decision to withhold is either within the
letter nor the spirit of the Law (FOI Act 2000).

Further, Information Commissioner guidance on the law which has been available
to Public bodies for some time (well before your signing of the March 2004
contract with BT) specifically on confidentiality clauses as also been
A blanket confidentiality clause does not absolve the department of
its statutory obligations and the Information Commissioner has stated
in the guidance that he would look unfavourably on such blanket clauses.

You should also be aware that general confidentiality and the excuse of
"likely to prejudice BT’s commercial interests" may not apply for companies
who are regarded as a Monopoly.  BT has the country’s largest recognised
monopoly.  The Information Commissioner has also stated this consideration
in the published Awareness Guidelines.
I do not believe that BT, as a monopoly, can possibly be commercially
damaged by the release of any information.

Finally, I do not see any evidence of the Public Interest Test which I
believe you are obligated to complete.  This information has undoubted
public interest.  The department has spent tax payers money on a contract
with BT.  I quote from your department’s own press release:
"This vitally important contract will deliver the Government’s broadband
vision of a fully connected Northern Ireland. In turn it will help
make Northern Ireland more competitive." – Ian Pearson, MP
"This will ensure that Northern Ireland is a seriously attractive area
for existing company expansion and new inward investment." – Bill Murphy, BT
"Broadband access to all rural areas will be a tremendous boost. Many rural
communities have already been campaigning to bring Broadband to their
locality. This demonstrates the demand for the service and having it
available to every household in Northern Ireland will ensure that a
rural /urban divide does not open up." – John Gilliland, UFU

The department itself recognises this contract of vital importance to
the Northern Ireland economy.

Finally, I note that the department has not yet updated the PDF document
on how to make a FOI request to include the correct email address. I was
assured at the time that this would be taken care of immediately (during
a telephone call from Ian Boyd).

I am also concerned that during the phone call from Ian Boyd that he seemed
to want to know, a) who I was, b) was I a competitor to BT, and  c) to
what purpose I wanted the information.  None of this information is relevant
to any FOI request. To Ian’s credit he did correct himself and said that
it should not matter, however – he should not have asked.  For the record –
I am not in competition with BT or even in the Internet industry any longer
and have not been for a number of years.

Thank you.

Paul Gregg

To await the response.

Freedom of Information, Request #2 – DETINI – the reply.

Unfortunately, my second FOI request has resulted in my second refusal to disclose the requested information.

Here is an OCRed transcript of the letter I received this morning.   I apologise for any OCR errors – I will check it this evening and convert to PDF / images and correct this post if there are any errors.

2 November 2005

Our Ref: FOl 062

Mr Paul Gregg
BT28 xxx

Dear Mr Gregg

Thank you for your e-mail of 13th October in which you requested a number of pieces of information in relation to the delivery of broadband services across Northern Ireland. I shall deal with these in the order requested.

The Department has considered your initial request for a copy of the contract between DETI and BT and has decided not to disclose this information. The reasons for withholding the contract are as follows: the contract itself contains a clause specifically obliging both the Department and the Contractor to treat all information as confidential; and, under Section 41 of the Freedom of Information (FOl) Act, the Department believes that, were such information to be disclosed, this would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. As a secondary consideration we believe that release of certain parts of the contract would be likely to prejudice BT�s commercial interests and are therefore also exempt under s43 of the Act.

You also sought information on �when the Department considers the contract completed�. The end date of the contract is April 2009 and the Department will not be in a position to make an absolute judgment on the issue of completeness until that point in time is reached. However, in operating the contract the Department has a number of milestones to consider, one of which will be in December 2005 when broadband should be available to 100% of the population. In addition, a number of systems are in place to ensure the contract is managed effectively and efficiently, including independent verification that the services are being delivered plus a number of in-house government audit procedures.

Your final request was for information relating to the �penalties and remedies for failure to meet the contracted deadlines�. Details of penalties and remedies form an integral part of the contract and, as already stated the Department believes that release of this information would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. Consequently under Section 41 of the FOI Act the Department has decided not to disclose this information.

For you information I attach a Fact Sheet outlining some of the main provisions of the FOl Act. This also gives details of your right of appeal should you not be satisfied with the response from this Department.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

Yours sincerely

Dr. Trevor Forsythe
Telecommunications Policy Unit


I intend to appeal in the first instance to DETI NI as I do not believe they have correctly followed the Information Commissioner’s guidance on existing confidentiality agreements included in Public Sector contracts.