Union in the News for October 10, 2005
Wireless service a staple at Union
By Lee Coleman - The Daily Gazette
Skidmore College has entered into a contract with Time Warner Cable for computer Internet service instead of upgrading its aging, in-house system that once provided the Internet to all college dorm rooms.
College officials say it would have cost more than $2 million over five years to rewire Skidmore's dorms for the faster Internet access today's students expect.
The Time Warner-Skidmore contract is the only one of its kind at a college in the Capital Region.
"We try to provide our students with the best access possible," said Justin D. Sipher, the college's chief technology officer.
The Time Warner Cable agreement, which started in September, comes with the faster Road Runner cable Internet service as well as the basic 81-channel cable package in all dorm rooms.
College officials say students are not charged individually for the Internet and cable television service. The service is included in the general room charge, they say.
Sipher said rewiring dorms with faster, plug-in computer modem hookups would have cost the college an estimated $500,000 a year for five years.
"We are able to get this contract for substantially less," Sipher said. He said a confidentiality agreement he signed with Time Warner prevented him disclosing the cost of the five-year contract.
In addition, the Time Warner agreement comes with 24-hour-per-day technical service from Time Warner.
Time Warner Cable officials say that Skidmore - a private, liberal arts college of 2,200 students on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs - is the first college in the company's Albany Division to opt for the cable-Internet service.
Some local colleges, including Siena College in Loudonville and the University at Albany, have Time Warner cable television service but not combined with the Road Runner Internet service, said Peter Taubkin, a spokesman for Time Warner with local headquarters in Rotterdam.
When the semester started there was a rumor around campus that the cable-Internet service for each room was increasing room costs. Josh Kron, a reporter for the Skidmore News, looked into this and determined the rumor was unfounded.
"The students are happy. The [Time Warner] service is much faster," said Kron, a Skidmore senior.
Over the summer Time Warner technicians ran fiber-optic cable underground to all residential buildings on campus for the new computer system.
In addition to the new Time Warner contract, the college is also providing more wireless computer Internet service on campus, Sipher said.
Wireless access allows students and faculty with properly equipped laptop computers to get Internet access without being plugged into cable or a wall connection.
There were 17 wireless access points last spring. Since then, the college technology office has increased access to 65 points, including the Scribner Library and the Case student center.
By the end of the semester the college expects to have 100 access points where students with laptop computers with the correct antenna can connect to the Internet. The cost to the college for the wireless upgrades is $50,000.
"All schools are looking to expand wireless access," Sipher said about other colleges in the Capital Region and Northeast.
Students have a password or number they use to access the wireless system, preventing the general public from using the campus system.
ACCESS AT UNION
Union College in Schenectady has been expanding its wireless Internet access on campus for a number of years, said college spokesman Bill Schwarz.
Students expect wireless access on campus, he said. "We are ahead of the game, making many of our facilities wireless," Schwarz said.
None of the dorm rooms at Skidmore College currently has wireless access because they have the Time Warner cable connection.
Sipher said the college can use its existing in-wall computer system - considered state of the art a decade ago - for the new wireless antenna connections.
"I would like to see more wireless [access]," said Dore Murphy, a sophomore from Cold Spring, who was using a college computer in Skidmore's Case Center on Tuesday.
She said her dorm cable connection seems to work fine and "seems to be pretty fast." She also likes the cable television connection. But Murphy added she heard talk that students' room costs have increased because of the new cable Internet system. Sipher said this is not the case.
Nina Glatt, a junior from Vermont, was using her wireless laptop computer in Scribner Library on Tuesday afternoon. She said the college's library wireless computer access works "really well."
Glatt, who lives in an apartment off campus, said she and her four roommates share the cost for a combination of wireless Internet service, phone service and television service. Her share is about $50 per month.
The basic cable and Internet connection package comes with each dorm room. But Time Warner also offers "upgrades" to this basic service at Skidmore. For example, for an additional $9.95 per month the student can get a digital converter and remote and 40 additional digital channels and 45 commercial-free music channels, plus more movie and on-demand channels. The most costly college cable upgrade is $29.95 per month.
Sipher said there were some minor "bumps in the road" when the new Time Warner system was introduced at the semester's start. Students were used to the former college-based computer "help desk" and had to learn to call the Time Warner's 24-hour help service.
Sipher said Time Warner had people on campus the first week of the semester to help students with the new system.
The new Time Warner contract has also taken the pressure off Skidmore's in-house computer network, freeing up user capacity on this 30 megabyte system.
The Time Warner cable Internet connection brings considerable computer capacity to each individual student connection. This means the college will no longer have to regulate the amount of computer use and data downloading by students as in past years.
"It's been a very positive experience for us," said Taubkin of Time Warner about the contract with Skidmore College.
Sipher and other members of his staff will be speaking about its computer systems, including the Time Warner contract, at a national conference this fall and early next year "just to share our findings."
"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, surprisingly positive," Sipher said about the new cable and Internet service.