As I already explained in another article file formats are extremely important: unless, at least in Public Administrations (PAs), only open file formats are used, serious amounts of public money can go to waste, important public digital documents may become unreadable and private citizens or businesses may be forced to useless expenses if they want to interact with PAs.

That’s why every now and then you see law proposals (not necessarily complete…) that promote open file formats and another potential source of big savings for PAs, Free Software). The Italian Region of Veneto, for example, issued such a law in 2008.

I have already explained how and why, according to the Italian Government, the file formats of Microsoft Office are NOT open, inviting citizens to not accept the current situation. During the official presentation in Belluno, Veneto, of the regional law on Free Software and Open Formats mentioned above, I met a small entrepreneur of a nearby town, S. Stefano di Cadore, Ezio, who has done just that. In February 2010 Ezio wrote to me that at least in one case in Belluno (one of the Provinces of the Veneto Region), it looks like that regional law had never been written. Here’s a synthesis of what he told me.

Ezio: I had already asked three times to the Belluno Chamber of Commerce to use open formats at least in their communications with external users, always getting the same answer: //“but why, if everybody uses .doc?”// They did never bother to at least check what the current laws say on this matter, and on February 4th, 2010, I got yet another example of that:

Subject: Chamber of Commerce: financing of promotional visit to Australia
Date: Thu, 04 Feb 2010 16:25:32 +0100
From: 	<estero@bl.camcom.it>:
To: 	derby@derby.it

*Entrepreneurial mission to Australia*

The Chamber of Commerce finances an entrepreneurial mission to Australia from May first to May 9th. Click here to download the full schedule and the participation form.

The “click here” in that message is a [zip archive http://www.bl.camcom.it/UserFile/File/Commercio_Estero/australia1.zip] of four files in .doc format. On February 10th I complained for the fourth time, after receiving another call for the same mission, with the same kind of attachments:

Subject: Re: Belluno Chamber of Commerce: financing of promotional visit to Australia
Date:    Wed, 10 Feb 2010 12:13:48 +0100
From:    Da Rin Ezio <darinezio@derby.it>
To:      <XXXXXXXXXX@bl.camcom.it>
CC:      Direttore Unione Artigiani <segreteria@unartbelluno.org>, segr.regapif@regione.veneto.it, appia.belluno@appiacna.it
Reference: 	<FCBA4488B1AB490694C14C5751EDFA3C@bl.intra.cciaa.net>

XXXXXXXXX wrote:
> The Chamber of Commerce finances an entrepreneurial mission to Australia
> from May first to May 9th. Attached please find full schedule and
> participation form.

Dear Sirs,
I wish to inform you that the attachment you sent is in the "zipx"
format, therefore "NON STANDARD" and not compliant with Veneto Regional
Law N.19 issued on 14/11/2008 (Stop's note: the same linked above),
that you can find quoted at the bottom of this message.

Therefore we would like to ask you to send the document again in a
STANDARD format, as recommended by current laws and regulation.
We also want to remind you that even the .doc format you often use
are "PROPRIETARY, NON STANDARD FORMATS".

If you have any doubts about which formats can be used, please check
on this website:

http://www.cnipa.gov.it/site/it-it/Attivit%C3%A0/Formati_aperti/

(Stop’s note: an English explanation of the last website quoted by Ezio is in another page)

Ezio: all I got from that last complaint was another proof they don’t get it:

Subject: Re: Belluno Chamber of Commerce: financing of promotional visit to Australia
Date:    Thu, 11 Feb 2010 09:31:52 +0100
From:      <xxxxxxxxxxx@bl.camcom.it>
To:     Da Rin Ezio <darinezio@derby.it>
Reference:     <FCBA4488B1AB490694C14C5751EDFA3C@bl.intra.cciaa.net> <4B7294EC.9090501@derby.it>

We are sorry for this problem. If you want to read all those documents in a compatible format you can find a link to them on our website, www.bl.camcom.it, in the right part of the home page.

as you can see in this [screenshot ], the link was badly formatted, but it’s obvious that is a link to www.bl.camcom.it, where the only thing one finds “in the right part of the home page” (Stop’s note: at least until February 26th, 12:20 pm, the situation was still the same as in this [screenshot taken on February 11th schermata_home_page.png]) is the bunch of .doc files for which I had already complained one week before. At that point I sent a formal complaint against the Belluno Chamber of Commerce to the Ombudsman of the Veneto Region, explaining that:

  • in spite of my reiterated request to not violate current national and regional regulations, the Chamber of Commerce insists on distributing documents in “NON STANDARD” formats.
  • that they do so without caring of the problems they create by forcing Businesses and private citizens to buy proprietary software programs with their own money, even when there are Open Source alternatives that have no license costs and would work just fine
  • on top of that, some of those proprietary software programs are sold by Companies who almost always reside abroad, or at least [invoice fom abroad (e.g. in Ireland, where taxes are lower) http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/microsoft-ireland-slashes-us-dividend-as-profits-rise-1364208.html], in ways that redistribute almost none of those profits in our Country
  • - I do hope they immediately start to fight these bad practices that have heavy negative impacts on the regional and national economy

Summing all up…

Open file formats are essential, the Italian State has been promoting them for years and doesn’t consider open the formats of Microsoft Office, all the political parties who will participate to the March 2010 regional elections approved in 2008 a law that “considering the positive effects on free and transparent markets… promotes and stimulates the adoption of open digital formats” (art. 1). In spite of all this, fourteen months after the arrival of that law, in a moment when half the small businesses of North Eastern Italy ask for public action to fight the economical crisis, an institution like the Chamber of Commerce, that represents the meeting point between the State and businesses”, doesn’t just seems like it never heard of that law.

The answers that Ezio got look like they didn’t even bother to read and understand all he actually wrote: “compatible format” does not mean at all “open format”, and “compatible” isn’t enough at all!. We’ll post here at Stop!/Zona-M any news about this case. In the meantime, congratulations to Ezio for demanding open formats, as every citizen is entitled to do: please follow his example, is the only way to start solving this problem.