Upon returning from summer break, students across campus discovered that cable access in their dorm rooms and apartments was no longer available. Many students were indifferent, but many others were confused and indignant, taking to social media to voice their concerns, feeling that they had been “ripped off” or “lied to.” Students believed that they had not been adequately informed on the removal of cable before returning to campus. While no announcement or notification was made to the student body in the form of a switchboard email or chapel slide, an official update had been posted to the Student Life Updates webpage, which can be found at mvnu.edu/updates.
“Due to changing technology needs and student input through the annual Motherboard technology survey, cable TV access points in residence area rooms have been discontinued. Because of increased demands from Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other video streaming services, the internet bandwidth across campus has been increased. Cable TV is still available in lobbies and common areas on campus.”
“The idea was to better serve students with technology by responding to what information we had from students,” said Tracy Waal, Vice President for Student Life. Waal explained that while 96% of students, as indicated by the annual Motherboard technology survey, use wifi or broadband internet access for schoolwork and entertainment, “the number one challenge that students had with technology on this campus was wifi,” according to the data obtained through the Student Life survey. The combined results of these surveys would suggest that, because students primarily use wifi or broadband internet access for entertainment and schoolwork, rather than cable, improving the reach and quality of the wifi on campus should be a priority. Updating infrastructure can be an expensive endeavor, and the decision was made to cut back on cable costs and dedicate those funds to making upgrades and improvements to the campus wifi network.
“We were paying for every [cable] outlet, whether it was used or not,” said John Walchle, Director of Information Technology Services. Based on the high cost of paying for approximately 450 cable outlets, per month, all year, even when campus is closed for breaks, and coupled with decreased cable usage across campus, “We thought that the funding from that could be better used to make improvements to wifi.”
There are approximately 400 wifi access points on the main campus, with just over 500 access points across the university, all working “in tandem together,” said Josh Cunningham of Motherboard. Since cutting the cord on cable, ITS and Motherboard have been able to upgrade or add 75 wifi access points, in both academic and residential areas. Several access points were added throughout Maplewood and Elmwood apartments specifically.
ITS are working hard to keep up with the increased demand for bandwidth in the digital age. Five years ago, campus bandwidth operated at 350 megabits per second, and with a 20% increase per year for increased streaming and multiple devices per student, currently functions at a significantly increased 1.8 gigabytes per second, or 1800 megabits per second. That’s a high ceiling, explained Cunningham. “1.8 [gigabytes] is above what we’re using… Even with all the students, 1.8 is still above and beyond what is actually being used.”
Students also play a role in making sure that the campus wifi functions at its best. “When we’ve got a large density of units like we have here… we’re using up a lot of those channels” or frequencies to maintain the wifi footprint of campus, said Walchle. Rogue routers or rogue devices such as an individual hotspot or wireless printers broadcast their own signals and can essentially block or steal from campus wifi channels. “Think of it like a radio station in your car. Whenever you’re traveling and you’re listening to the radio and it starts to get fuzzy and you can hear a second station, it’s that overlapping signal,” explained Cunningham. “That’s one of the things that we deal with,” said Walchle, “In a residential area, if your neighbor turns on a wireless printer or turns on a hotspot on their phone, you’re gonna get bad wifi.”
“When people tell us they have bad wifi, it’s really an in the moment thing,” explained Walchle. “There’s a lot of variables that go into it… The important thing is that we need details. We need to know the details of the problems that you’re having, and we are more than willing and capable of helping, we just need you to let us know, because we don’t know unless you tell us.”
The Signal Team was designed as a quick-response team to deal with wifi issues immediately. Students can contact the Signal Team for on-call wifi help by texting (740) 324-5545 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or can visit wifi.mvnu.edu for troubleshooting tips. Their new office in the Birch E Lobby hosts full-time employees during the day, and student workers in the evenings from 5:00p.m. to 8:00p.m. to assist students if they’re having trouble connecting to the campus network.
Cable is still available in common areas around campus, including all dorm and apartment lobbies, the Prince Student Union and Ariel Arena, Central Complex and the Dwelling.