Restriction of Internet Access to Continue

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Despite new software that promises to dramatically reduce the amount of bandwidth needed to download MP3 music files, university officials said yesterday they will not abolish their limit on Internet access speeds.

Working with computer experts from Indiana University, Napster, Inc. has developed a program to locate MP3 files on a school or local network, using the Internet only as a last resort.

If a UC Berkeley student used the software to search for a specific song, Napster would generate a list of other students on campus who have downloaded that song. The program would not use the Internet unless the student could not first find the song on a local network.

Cliff Frost, director of communications and network services, said this type of local priority program sounds promising, but presents complicated legal issues.

"The bottom line is that if there's something interesting that can help with the problem, we might use it," he said.

He said UC Berkeley will not lift its bandwidth cap, instituted in early February, but the software change may make the effects of the cap less severe.

The network speed depends on the amount of bandwidth students use at a given time. Frost said the program will reduce each person's bandwidth use and therefore increase connection speeds.

He added, however, that although such software is technically very easy to create, the university cannot be party to possible copyright violations.

A group of record companies has filed a lawsuit against Napster, asking for damages of $100,000 for each copyrighted song that users swapped - which could amount to $2 billion.

Frost said if the campus runs servers that distribute MP3 files, the university could be held liable for copyright infringements.

"If the software was successful, it could mean that the bandwidth cap wouldn't interfere with everybody," he added. "But we cannot put in a policy that would aid and abet copyright violations."

Almost 70 schools across the country have banned Napster or restricted students' Internet access, including Brown, Northwestern and Boston universities.

Napster spokesperson Roy Dank said the company is working to reduce the amount of bandwidth that users need to download MP3 files.

He said the software currently available on the Web site is only a demo version and that the company is working to solve the problem before the real version becomes available.

"It's Napster's fault, so to speak," Dank said. "One of the biggest bugs in the trial version is that it clogs the bandwidth, but Napster is working diligently to iron out these problems."

Mark Bruhn, an information technology policy officer at Indiana University, said the school will restore access to Napster on Saturday after banning it two months ago.

Faced with skyrocketing access costs, Bruhn said the university blocked access to Napster Feb. 12. The university's access costs doubled every 90 days, and Napster use exploded to 61 percent of its bandwidth before the university impeded access to the software, he said.

"It began to affect response time and university-related uses," Bruhn said. "Napster is a recreational application, and we were faced with it taking up 80 percent of our bandwidth in a matter of weeks. We responded in a tactical way to a strategic problem that would have degraded university-related services pretty dramatically."

After banning Napster, the network started "zipping along pretty good," he said.

He added the school will lift the Napster ban on a trial basis because the new software seeks to reduce the amount of bandwidth each student uses and drive costs back down.

Universities pay flat rates for campus access, but pay for Internet access according to the amount of bandwidth used. Increased use sends costs soaring.

"This decreases our outbound traffic because students are not sending the files to people outside the university, and it decreases inbound traffic because these students search the Internet for MP3's only as a last resort," he said.

Bruhn also said the university will tackle the problem from the inside by giving preference to certain types of access.

"A combination of placing priorities on access and this new way of searching will do exactly what needs to be done - the use of recreational applications will be relegated to levels commensurate with that use," he said.

Students at Indiana University expressed cautious optimism at the change in policy.

Indiana sophomore Chad Paulson started a Web site called Students Against University Censorship and obtained nearly 14,000 signatures on a petition to protest the decision to ban Napster. He said universities should educate students about Napster use rather than blocking access to the site.

"Lifting the Napster ban is very positive, but it's sort of after the fact," he said. "It's like they said, 'Oh, crap. We screwed up. Let's fix it.'"

Paulson said Napster bans are more punitive than productive and foster animosity between students and university officials.

"The big problem is that there are other methods of dealing with Napster besides just blocking it," he said. "They should educate students on how to use it responsibly. This is a school, after all. We need education, not babysitting."

A bandwidth cap is a viable alternative to an all-out Napster ban, Paulson said. But he said he was concerned the cap punished all students for the mistakes of a few.

"It's like feeding a piece of steak to a bunch of hungry jackals," he said. "They often do it out of spite, rather than being productive and working with students."

Paulson added that Napster's legal trouble demonstrates that copyright laws have not kept up with the times.

"I don't advocate copyright violations - people should follow the laws - but copyright law needs to be curved a bit," he said.

Chris White, a residence hall network coordinator at Oregon State University, called the school's Napster ban "very effective" and said he had no plans to remove it.

"It was costing the university thousands and thousands of dollars," he said. "If we didn't ban some of these things, it would cost the university more than $45,000 a month."

He added that student outrage over the cap quickly subsided.

"Students were upset about it at first," he said. "But once we explained why this was happening - that Napster had the possibility of slowing down the network to the point that it would no longer be usable - they got over their initial outcry."


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