My eyelids flicker as I stare at my computer screen, transfixed by the loading bar on my browser, inching slowly toward the finish line: 100%. It is 1 AM on a Tuesday and I have been attempting to connect to Moodle for the past ten minutes to no avail. I check my Ethernet cord, go to the bathroom, brew a cup of tea, and check again: still, nothing.
I am not alone in these midnight frustrations: accessing the internet at Conn has become a campus-wide waiting game that no one is winning.
This drastic decrease in internet speed is due to a dearth of bandwidth available at certain hours of the day. Conn’s current service plan allots 70 MB of bandwidth to the campus, which is easily maxed out during the peak hours from 10 PM to 2 AM. When the bandwidth is at capacity, the network speed slows to a trickle.
Lee Hisle of Information Services attributes the increased bandwidth demand to changes in the nature of internet activity: “it used to be peer-to-peer music downloading clogging the pipes” he said, “Now it is video applications, especially video downloading and streaming.”
Whatever the cause, the internet is getting to be prohibitively slow. Students have been unable to load YouTube videos, Skype their friends abroad, and even access Moodle. The last complaint is the most alarming; the inability to access a vital academic resource is unacceptable.
Many Conn professors have begun to supplement curricula with online resources as the internet becomes an established part of the academic culture. As an educational establishment, we have a responsibility to maintain the means through which knowledge and intellectual dialogue are exchanged. More and more, such interactions are occurring through internet-based forums as technology improves and creates new methods of information dissemination.
Most Conn professors now require students to participate in class forums, download assignments off of Moodle, or utilize the library online research database. In addition, some classes have begun to include online video streaming as a teaching resource, particularly for viewing documentaries and YouTube videos.
In light of such developments, the deficient network connection is not a triviality but a major defect in an increasingly important instructive resource. It is imperative that the college provide the students with adequate and up-to date internet access; it is becoming a vital tool for knowledge dissemination both in the classroom and society as a whole. To be technologically wanting is to jeopardize the integrity of our college as an educational institution.
Information Services has been investigating possible solutions to this issue, the most plausible of which entails a simple increase in the amount of bandwidth purchased from the service provider. A boost to 100MB would cost an additional 15,000 per year, which translates to roughly $8 per student. A few years ago, students voted to have the annual tuition increased by $25 in order to offset the college’s carbon emissions. This referendum passed and was approved by the administration.
While such a process is time-consuming, a similar resolution for the purchase of more bandwidth would show the administration that the student body cares about the issue and is willing to organize in order to achieve the necessary changes. The $15,000 should not be difficult to raise, whether through such a resolution or through a rehashing of the IS budget.
Purchasing the additional 30MB is both feasible and cost effective, but Lee Hisle postulates that even that investment wouldn’t offset the bandwidth demand: “What we know from other colleges with similar usage patterns is that students will saturate the additional bandwidth in pretty short order.”
The next logical step would be to push past the 100MB mark and purchase more bandwidth. However, in order to effectively implement that purchase, the physical hardware that conveys the internet signals would need to be updated. That renovation would require much more capital and labor than a simple purchase, and at this point in time, there is not a portion of the budget set aside for such revisions.
The Conn College community is in quite a technological quandary; do we simply purchase the maximum amount of bandwidth that the system can handle and hope that YouTube will go out of style? Or do we assail the already cash-strapped administration and demand an overhaul of the system that, most of the time, is adequate for our internet needs?
In order to keep the system operating at even a passable speed in the next few years, the amount of bandwidth purchased must increase to 100MB per year. This is feasible within the next academic year, and Information Services has indicated that they are working to make this upgrade as quickly as possible.
This is a commendable move to solve the issue in the immediate future. However, the push for technological improvement cannot stop there; to be placated by the additional 30 MB alone would be both shortsighted and foolhardy. The demand for bandwidth will only swell with the expanding availability of both educational and recreational internet capabilities in the coming years; the college needs to prepare now to realize the technological needs of the future.
With this in mind, a task force should be formed, one similar to the one designed to revive the newspaper program. Such a group would advocate for an update of the network hardware in order to provide a higher bandwidth capacity.
This may seem overzealous, but the quality of our communications technology affects far more than the clarity of a few Skype conversations. The integrity of our resources influences the credibility of the college as a whole, and maintenance of these essential assets cannot be ignored.
Photo by Duncan Spaulding