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Metro OKC's major universities offer wireless Internet to students


Joe Wertz August 28th, 2008

Lance Gill doesn't describe himself as a heavy Internet user, but just the thought of an interrupted connection makes him anxious. "I have an iPhone, and if I can't get the Web for even a day I feel...

Student-connections-Brandon

Lance Gill doesn't describe himself as a heavy Internet user, but just the thought of an interrupted connection makes him anxious.

"I have an iPhone, and if I can't get the Web for even a day I feel like I'm going to die," he said.

WIRELESS WORLD
VARYING TECHNOLOGIES
PEER-TO-PEER SOFTWARE

Gill, 19, and three other Oklahoma City University sophomores live in Cokesbury Court, an apartment-style student housing complex situated near the center of the campus. The foursome could easily plug their computers into the wall and tap into the wired connection available at most colleges and universities everywhere.

But neither Gill nor his roommates Sam Calvin, 19, and Alex Houston, 20, bothered to buy or request the cable necessary to bring the Internet to their laptop computers. 

Like every other university in the OKC metro, OCU has a wireless Internet connection available to students, many of whom increasingly see cables as an unnecessary tether and regard anything that delays or impedes Web access as unacceptable.

WIRELESS WORLD
But things still come unplugged in a wireless world, and disconnections are often out of the hands of student network users.

"We're supposed to be able to connect everywhere wirelessly," Gill said, gesturing to the various campus buildings surrounding him. "But we can't."

Gill, Calvin and Houston each noted difficulty accessing the university's wireless connection, both while school was in session last year and upon their return to campus for the 2008 fall semester, which started Aug. 25 for the OCU students.

The roommates are all film studies majors from the Tulsa area, a course of academia they agree requires technological proficiency and knowledge of computers. Still, the trio said they regularly struggle with the wireless connection, even after meeting with the school's technical support staff.

"Sure, it's frustrating," Gill said. "Sometimes you bring your computer in, tech support tells you it's working fine and even they (tech support staff) can't connect."

Gerry Hunt, campus technology director at OCU, said connecting to the school's wireless network can be difficult for students used to less regulated networks at home.

"Security is obviously an issue," he said. "We are located in an urban area, and have to make sure our network can't be accessed by people who don't have good intentions."

VARYING TECHNOLOGIES
Hunt said that because students come equipped with varying technologies capable of accessing the Web, including computers, laptops, phones and gaming devices, troubleshooting specific wireless connection problems is a constant challenge to tech support staff.

When connected, Gill and Calvin also noted having trouble getting certain file-sharing programs, like LimeWire, to connect to the Internet.

Although using a university network for illegal activity is prohibited at all Oklahoma colleges and universities, information technology directors at OSU, OCU and Edmond's Oklahoma Christian University said both proactively limit network traffic used by file-sharing software either by blocking the software's connection or reducing the amount of bandwidth the software is allotted.

Peer-to-peer file-sharing was "removed" from OSU's wireless network in June, 2007 and from student housing in May, according to a July IT memo. Plans to block certain file-sharing programs from the rest of the school's network are ongoing.

Internet traffic at OC, a private university affiliated with the Church of Christ, is also subjected to "content filtering," which blocks sites deemed "inappropriate" or "in opposition to the mission of the university," according to a school technology policy referenced by university Chief Technology Officer John Hermes.

PEER-TO-PEER SOFTWARE
Hunt said peer-to-peer software and similar "bandwidth hogs" like video and audio streaming are allotted limited bandwidth at OCU largely during times of the day when network use is the highest.

Bandwidth for file-sharing programs isn't limited on networks at Oklahoma State University, the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, in Chickasha, according to IT directors on those campuses.

Nicholas Key, from the University of Oklahoma's Information Technology department, said bandwidth for file-sharing programs would only be limited if it "significantly degrades the network experience for other users."

Gill and his roommates said they aren't that concerned with unrestricted downloads, but are frustrated that an attempt to limit certain uses might make general connectivity an issue for other students.

And although school officials say file-sharing programs aren't blocked from OCU's campus network outright, Gill said it probably wouldn't matter.

"You can never get a connection (to the wireless network) anyway," he said. "Even if you wanted to spend a bunch of time downloading songs or movies, you couldn't."

Hunt said his office only receives a "handful" of regular complaints from students trying to connect to the school's wireless network, but said it's an issue that will likely grow as students come to rely on the technology.

"Wireless is an expectation now," he said. "It's pervasive. We need to have it and it needs to work." "Joe Wertz

 
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