Residence Hall Network Policy Raises Questions About Internet Access

Daniel Peek is UC Berkeley student majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. Respond to him at [email protected]

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In an article in Tuesday's Daily Cal about the recent imposition of a bandwidth cap on the residence halls, Cliff Frost, director of communications and network services, said that the cap would "start a dialogue with people in the residence halls" ("Internet Slowed in Dorms to Limit Downloading of Music," March 7). There are reasons that the actions taken by CNS incite dialogue.

The university has not been looking for a solution in a reasonable way. According to an e-mail sent to residents in the dorms, the staff initially set the cap at 20 megabits per second. They later reduced it to 15 megabits and then to 10. It has been temporarily restored to 15, but we do not know for how long.

Throughout the year, students who were lured to the dorms by promised high-speed Internet connections have been subjected to interruptions in service, unpredictable speed, lack of equipment for converted triples and now, permanent speed restrictions. At the same time, the university still charges students the same fee for access as it did for the reliable, high-speed access it provided last year.

As the Daily Cal noted, "limiting Internet bandwidth is expected to throw a wrench in connection speed." Frost was not joking. When CNS experimented with network caps around 10 megabits per second, knowing that they had sustained traffic of around 25 megabits per second without a cap, they could have predicted the result: very little throughput, even for low bandwidth uses.

At times, simple Web pages took so long to load that browsers timed out without loading the page at all. This cut off residents from services they rely on for academic purposes such as homework assignments and Web-based student services such as long distance telephone codes. The university did all of this without notice, which it could have provided to residents ahead of time with minimal effort. This is not the kind of behavior we should expect from a service provider.

It is reasonable to expect that as the number of residents using computers and the uses of computers expand, the use of bandwidth will also increase. It is therefore no surprise that the bandwidth that was adequate years ago may no longer be enough.

But what if it is? CNS did not say how much bandwidth the university has, exactly how much it costs or how those costs are structured. This information was not on their Web page and was difficult to find. Without this, the public cannot make well-informed opinions on the university's policy. I appeal for openness.


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