Letters to the Editor

“Just Cut Us Off” (11/30)

As I read The Phillipian of November 30, I found that many of the points made in [“Just Cut Us Off”](site://article/5547) struck me as misinformed. Before I dissect those arguments, I was surprised that no mention was made of possibility of giving a trial period. Currently, the first week of school doesn’t count for the bandwidth rules. Given that “historically, the first few weeks of the year are always the highest” (according to Valerie Roman, Director of Technology, in [Jack Dickey’s Oct. 12 article](site://article/5186)), I suspect that if those who went over bandwidth in that first week (or two) were warned but not punished, we might see a substantially reduced number of people losing Internet because of that first week with consequences. The author suggests that bandwidth overages “ **should be responded to with a cease of use for the rest of the week and not an extended punishment.** ” As it stands now, the punishment is not particularly extended for first time violators—one week without Internet. I’ll respond more thoroughly to the idea of immediate ceasing of usage below. “ **Most students arrive at Phillips Academy without any idea what bandwidth is in the first place.** ” As a new student last year and one of the Techmasters who returned early this year to help people set up their computers, I feel I have a better-than-average sense of how Phillips Academy strives to educate new students about bandwidth. All new students attend a technology orientation in their first weekend at the school. I helped lead one of them this year, and I can assure you that a major topic is the bandwidth policy. We attempt to explain how much bandwidth common activities take up, and make it clear that bandwidth monitors are available and that Techmasters can help set them up. We welcome questions and generally handle several questions about bandwidth. “ **Few, if any, students knew that they were actually breaking a rule.** ” I do agree that the student body should make evident a desire for a school-sanctioned bandwidth monitor (ideally, the ability to see using PAnet what the school’s system thinks you have used). “ **In this day and age, the idea that the Internet should be used exclusively for academic purposes is absurd.** ” Indeed, and I see no evidence that such is expected. It has been asserted that the Blue Book claims that such an expectation exists. However, the actual statement is simply “The technology resources at Phillips Academy […] are provided to support the educational and administrative activities of the school and should be used for those purposes. […] Incidental personal use of the school’s technology resources must not interfere […] with the community’s ability to use the resources for professinal and academic purposes” (The Blue Book, 27), which is reasonable—the Academy provides Internet for academic reasons (and presumably prioritizes such), but permits use for other purposes as well. “ **NBC recently put a large selection of their shows on their website, making them accessible at any time of day. So why should the cult of The Office fans at Andover have to watch the weekly episode on TV on Thursday night, the night when they have the most work, if they can watch it on their computers on Friday night?** ” This would be unfortunate, certainly. On the other hand, a one-hour long Heroes episode (viewable online in about 45 minutes, which is nice) takes up about 300MB of bandwidth. This is significant, certainly, and makes me worry a lot about bandwidth if I’m trying to watch more than one hour (to catch up, for example). On the other hand, by no means is it enough to preclude using the wired Internet to watch your favorite show every week, when you want to. My adjective use in the previous sentence suggests another hole in this argument: according to [Dickey’s Oct. 12 article](site://article/5186) in The Phillipian, “Usage in the PACC and on the Phillips Academy wireless network does not count towards the limit.” While the library may not be open on Friday nights, the PACC is a good place to watch shows besides when they air. Locations such as GW also have wireless, and may be open at more convenient times. Depending on your dorm, you may also be able to use wireless from your dorm room—some rooms in Stuart have access from Gelb, and my understanding is that much of the quads has access from Johnson (which recently received wireless). Upshot: you can watch The Office when you want, although you may have to sacrifice a little choice (no 2 a. m. viewings) or a sizable chunk of bandwidth (a little under 1/6 for a 30-minute show). “ **There is no reason why students who use their allotted amount of bandwidth cannot simply be cut off immediately, until the next week begins. The system should operate the same way as minutes on a prepaid cell phone. Our service should be terminated when we run out of minutes. What is the sense in letting us go over and charging us for it for no real benefit?** ” I’d trust this statement a lot more if I knew this had been run by Roman or somebody else in the Technology department. My understanding from comments at Techmasters is that the current bandwidth system uses a weekly batch job (with limited flexibility in exactly how it works). As a result, cutting students off immediately is not very simple technologically. In addition, there are legitimate policy reasons to wait until later to chop off bandwidth. Which strikes you as a worse situation? A student, under the current policy, downloads a large amount of content for purely entertainment related purposes, and loses his Internet for a week. Under your policy, this student would lose access for nearly as long, with no chance to prepare for the loss by downloading articles he needed for research and the like. Alternatively, a student under your proposed policy is assigned by her teacher to watch a video from CNN. She has already downloaded a large amount that week, but is still under the limit by a hundred megabytes. Despite requests by the students to give several days to watch the video (to make viewing in the PACC easier), the teacher insists that the video must be timely to be useful, and besides is only 150MB, leaving plenty of bandwidth for personal use. Our student goes over the limit, and spends the next several days frantically running around trying to get her Internet restored (because large academic videos are sorta-kinda not supposed to count). Under the current policy she would know as she watched that she might go over, and would be able to contact her cluster dean long before she lost access, thereby avoiding ever losing access. Overall, there are both valid technological and policy reasons for the current approach to when to cut off Internet. “ **Though many students come to Andover ignorant of what bandwidth is and without worries about excessive Internet usage, they are forced to change their habits to conform to a policy stuck in the past.** ” There are many changes involved in coming to Andover. Learning to keep track of about how much Internet they use does not strike me as a terribly hard task for the smartest kids in the country (or whatever we claim we are). Additionally, the policy is not stuck in the past. Limiting bandwidth has legitimate reasons. Based on attending various Techmasters meetings, I’ve heard a significant amount about the school’s Internet. During summer session this past summer, one student apparently downloaded about 700GB of data—single-handedly saturating the school’s connection to the Internet. During peak hours—about 8 – 12 p.m., I think—the network apparently runs at about 80 percent of capacity, so even with the current policy we come close to saturating our capacity. For those who suggest increasing capacity, the Technology department has repeatedly reminded us that the Academy currently has a far better connection to the net than most of our peer schools (by about a factor of six). “ **Now, in the present, the Internet can justifiably be used for non-academic purposes. Even the news on the Internet is starting to change to more interactive media.** ” Indeed. Personally, I prefer my news written, since that tends to be denser with respect to information per unit time than voice. Written news, conveniently, requires negligible bandwidth. In [Dickey’s Oct. 12 article](site://article/5186), Roman said that “Currently the data still show that what’s pushing kids over the limit is recreational use: Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. People aren’t going over using National Geographic or CNN.” Apparently, while the Internet can be used for non-entertainment purposes, those don’t tend to lead people to go over bandwidth. “ **Despite what the Technology Office may say, the fact that the average bandwidth used by a student is less than half a gigabyte does not mean that there is not a demand for more bandwidth.** ” Your point in the first sentence here is one of your best, I feel. Personally, I try to leave myself plenty of leeway in bandwidth use—I aim for under half a gigabyte (and long have) and start to worry a fair bit anytime I think I may be approaching about 700MB. I may be using well under half a gigabyte per week, but my behavior **is** still affected by the bandwidth limit. Alex Dehnert ’08 Head of The Phillipian Online Webmaster of Techmasters