Still Buffering... Wifi Outsourcing in Dorms has Failed Students
Wireless internet connections have been a continual issue at on-campus residences this year. Despite many isolated issues and slow speeds in previous years, this school year has seen large blanket outages, including one that affected residences last weekend. Bill Duffy, Head of Information Technology (IT), when asked for comment on this said, “Time Warner replaced a faulty network switch that affected the wireless in several dorms this weekend. This was affecting both connection and throughput. “
Unlike wifi in academic buildings, like the library, internet in residences is outsourced to Time Warner, which as students know, does not perform nearly as well as the internet infrastructure provided by Skidmore. In several tests over the course of the last school year, this author measured speeds as low as .47 MB per second, which doesn't allow loading a web page, let alone a video. Even, students who aren't currently suffering issues can go online to platforms like, Yik Yak to find countless posts of the nature, “this is like a wifi drought.”
The housemate of the Editor, Abude Alasaad, expressed seriously that Syria, a country suffering from civil war, had better internet. "I had better internet at home," he asserted. "My family in Syria is having a trouble reaching me."
To amend these issues, the IT department has directed students to call Time Warner’s direct-line for Skidmore: 844-688-3195. However, after calling the direct line twice and being transferred to a call center in California once, this editor has no evidence to believe that any support can be found. Further, when explaining that I, a student, was told to the company directly, the phone technician suggested that "someone at IT must have been having a bad day.”
In addition to calling the “direct-line,” students have also been encouraged to connect computers to ethernet ports directly, unfortunately Skidmore IT has not recognized that Apple removed ethernet ports from its laptops in 2012.
Other issues that Duffy cited included students use of prohibited devices that interfere with connections and students use of bit torrenting on residential networks. While IT does investigate network interferences when requested, these are tricky to hunt down. Students must avoid using interfering devices, such as wireless printers. And, on the latter issue, bit torrenting, Duffy commented that Time Warner instituted a bandwidth limit to minimize the damage of high volume users.
The issue with wifi does not all rest with student actions, though. In a previous piece in the Skidmore News on dormitory and apartment wifi, one IT staff member admitted that much of the campus infrastructure is very outdated. Only a few buildings, such as Wiecking have been updated to the newest technology, 802.11ac. The Skidmore News was told that updating all residences quickly would cost roughly $1,000,000.
This raises the question: who is to blame for wireless issues in campus residences? The issues likely rests somewhere between IT and Michael West, Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer, who has not responded to comment. Year after year, Skidmore maintains its relationship with Time Warner, which year after year, continues to provide worsening wireless coverage. However, replacing Time Warner would make necessary the massive infrastructure costs aforementioned.
Given the importance of internet to nearly every aspect of academic life, its unclear why there is any debate on immediately making this investment. Yet, when this author spoke with one member of IT, he was uncertain about whether the administration will approve the investment. On a related question of IT resources, other members of the department have explained that Skidmore’s department is short staffed. There’s no question they work very hard, though. When outages are reported, IT staff are on campus late at night to address issues and often even responding to this Newspaper with updates. Rather, there is an apparent lack of resources dedicated to improving Skidmore's networks.
For the students’ sake, let’s hope that Skidmore decides that adequate internet in residences is a priority to the institution. Duffy explained that, “We are looking at proposals from different vendors including our current vendor Time Warner. The College is committed to offering a robust residential networking infrastructure”. If he is truly serious about this statement, then students should expect to see results. Getting rid of Time Warner would be a good start.
Update: Clear View Networks, a partner of Time Warner, has confirmed that connection issues for mac users have been tied to updated network settings on its broadcasting infrastructure. They are restoring to legacy settings and all students should be able to connect to wifi by tonight (11/10).