By Jamie Welch, Editor-in-Chief
The college is “seriously inclined” to restrict cable TV on campus to residence hall common rooms only while simultaneously increasing internet capacity fivefold, according to Vice President of Information Technology Rodney Tosten, who gave a presentation at the Student Senate meeting held April 10.
Tosten says the proposed change, which would take effect for the 2017-2018 academic year, reflects a shift in the way students consume video content.
“41 percent of the internet traffic that comes in is Netflix,” Tosten said as he referenced a pie chart showing the college’s internet traffic over a typical week. “As we go clockwise around the pie, you can see the next is YouTube, Facebook, HTTP video…that represents 99.99 percent of the content that comes into campus.”
“What you don’t see showing up there in any significant fashion: academic work and the running of the college. This is purely entertainment,” Tosten continued. “I think that’s wonderful…[it’s] important that we maintain that and give you the best experience that we can.”
The college Information Technology division is at a crossroads, with two major contracts up for renewal this year: the campus cable TV contract and the campus internet contract.
“We have to look three to five years into the future and think about what’s [going to] be the demand…and right price both of those to how much it’s being used on campus,” Tosten said.
Tosten said there is clearly a need to increase internet bandwidth, with the current capacity barely meeting student connectivity needs. Additionally, Tosten has observed that 30 spaces on campus need a box to receive TV service, however only three of those boxes have been picked up.
Tosten proposed shifting resources to match demand, with a fivefold increase in internet capacity from 2 gigabits per second to 10 gigabits per second while simultaneously cutting cable TV access down to being available in residence hall common rooms only. Tosten noted specifically that this change would not affect the Bullet Hole, Jaeger Center, and the Attic.
“We’re also seeing our peers – small liberal arts colleges – do this,” Tosten said. “Franklin & Marshall…made this move three years ago.”
Franklin & Marshall did indeed cut cable TV service for students, however not all of our peer institutions have done so. A review of policies at other peer institutions including Dickinson College and Muhlenberg College shows that cable television service is still available free of charge, while Middlebury College and Bucknell University have moved to common room access only (the same move proposed by Gettysburg).
Tosten acknowledged that there are some people who will be affected more than others.
“I know right away that not every residence hall has a common room, and I get that. [We] welcome ways of thinking through are there creative solutions that we can look for for those areas that don’t have a common room. Not sure that one exists, but happy to have a conversation about it,” he said.
He also suggested that sharing common rooms with buildings that don’t have one would be a possibility.
Senator Kate Helmstetter said fraternity houses would likely not allow her to watch their common room TV, and should not be on the list of spaces to retain cable TV in their commons rooms.
“If students can’t elect to live in a certain area…the people in those places can use their own money to pay for those services,” she commented.
Senator Kat Krohn disagreed with Helmstetter’s idea.
“So many people live in places like ATO…so it would be weird to not let them have access to TV,” Krohn said, “because if you join a fraternity you are…forced to live there.”
Senator Alex Engelsman agreed with Krohn.
“Kate, I think one of the issues with that…[is] that would be, in a way, punishing students for living in fraternity houses or other houses like that…just because I decided to join Sigma Chi and live in 240 Carlisle Street, I don’t have access to that now,” Engelsman said.
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have access to it, I’m just saying it shouldn’t be provided through the school,” Helmstetter replied.
Tosten said students would be able to connect smart TVs and some other smart devices over the wired network and stream content. Devices that require use of the wireless network will not be permitted because they take up a very large portion of the shared Wi-Fi bandwidth.
“Imagine all of us screaming in here at once, we couldn’t hear anybody,” Tosten said in response to a question from sophomore Mike Karchner about why Chromecast devices are not allowed on campus. “It’s the same with wireless access points.”
However, the college does allow such devices on the wired network.
“A wired device is like being on the telephone line with somebody else, it’s a direct connection, and regardless of what everybody else is doing, it doesn’t impact other people nor do other people impact [you],” Tosten said.
Junior Danielle Jones expressed concerns about the logistics of sharing one TV with an entire residence hall.
“If you put one TV in Apple you have all the people who are in Apple who are like, ‘Ok, we want to watch “Monday Night Football”’ and then you have all the other people in Apple who are like, ‘No! We’re going to watch “The Bachelorette!”’…so is making people stream that on smart devices going to slow down the internet?”
“It would if we weren’t going to increase the bandwidth,” Tosten said.
Clubs Liaison Christina Noto expressed concerns about access to streaming services and “smart” streaming devices by students of lower socio-economic status.
“That’s assuming everybody’s economic status and not everybody necessarily has access to a subscription at home or [access to] a smart TV — it may just be a regular TV,” Noto said.
Tosten acknowledged that Netflix is a paid service, but said that most of the broadcast networks will allow you to watch the most recent episode online for free.
“My DVR has messed up every once in awhile…and we have to go to the internet and stream them down,” he said.
Tosten said he welcomes feedback on the proposed changes.
“We do recognize that this has an impact…we want to try to minimize that, and at the same time we want to give you what you want to have which is more and more and more internet bandwidth, and we want to make sure that you get that,” Tosten said.
After Tosten finished his question and answer session, Senator Michael Mancuso, chair of the Senate Opinions committee, made a motion to introduce an opinion opposing the reduction in cable TV service on campus. The motion was moved to committee, and a vote is expected to be taken on the final opinion on April 17.
“The Committee for Senate Opinions has unanimously passed an Opinion opposing the IT department’s plan,” Mancuso said in a message to the Gettysburgian Thursday night. “I hope to see it on the agenda for Monday.”
Sophomore Haley Gluhanich is starting a petition urging college officials to rethink their plans to reduce cable TV service on campus. She plans to circulate the petition in Servo and other campus spaces, and urges members of the campus community to reach out to her if they are interested in signing the petition or getting involved.
“Students use the TV for recreation, but many are also required to use the cable television service for academic work,” Gluhanich said.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that they can make such decisions without consulting the student body,” she added.