College to curb cable TV, boost bandwidth

This pie graph shows the internet usage in a typical week at Gettysburg College. Photo Credit: Gettysburg College IT Department

This pie graph shows the internet usage in a typical week at Gettysburg College. Photo Credit: Gettysburg College IT Department

By Jamie Welch, Editor-in-Chief

The TL;DR

  • The college is restricting cable TV to residence hall common rooms only while simultaneously increasing internet capacity fivefold.
  • VP of Information Technology Rod Tosten says the move is both a cost-saving measure and a reflection of a change in TV viewing habits on campus.
  • The college will provide free HDMI cables for students to hook up laptops to their TVs.

The college is restricting cable TV on campus to residence hall common rooms only while simultaneously increasing internet capacity fivefold, according to an email sent to students Wednesday by Vice President of Information Technology, Rodney Tosten.

Tosten says the change, which will take effect for the 2017-2018 academic year, reflects a shift in the way students consume video content.

“Today, nearly 99% of our internet traffic into campus is streaming video content,” the email from Tosten read in part.

“Forty-one percent of the internet traffic that comes in is Netflix,” Tosten said at the April 10 Student Senate meeting 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’s 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 at the April 10 meeting.

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.

The email from Tosten announced that IT will increase internet campus internet bandwidth from 2 gigabits per second to 10 gigabits per second while simultaneously cutting cable TV access down to residence hall common rooms only. Tosten noted specifically that this change would not affect the Bullet Hole, Jaeger Center or the Attic.

“Increasing Gettysburg College’s internet bandwidth fivefold comes at a sizeable cost. Therefore, IT must reallocate resources to make this necessary upgrade,” Tosten said.

“We’re also seeing our peers – small liberal arts colleges – do this,” Tosten said at the Senate meeting. “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 at the Senate meeting 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 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.

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.

In addition to smart devices, students can connect their laptops directly to their televisions. The college has decided to give an HDMI cable and/or adapter to each student free of charge, according to the list of Frequently Asked Questions released in conjunction with the email sent Wednesday.

The HDMI cable giveaway is in response to a suggestion from Senator Lillian Clark, who pointed out at the April 10 meeting that the college currently supplies coaxial cables to all students free of charge.

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 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 Committee for Senate Opinions has unanimously passed an Opinion opposing the IT department’s plan,” Mancuso said late last week.

Sophomore Haley Gluhanich also began a petition urging college officials to rethink their plans to reduce cable TV service on campus.

“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.”

At Monday evening’s Senate meeting, the opinion drafted in Mancuso’s committee was rejected in a roll call vote of the full Senate.

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Author: Jamie Welch

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