Complaints about the speed of the University’s Internet peaked this past fall, and many students have expressed increased frustration at the difficulty of even streaming a video. Ben Doernberg ’13, who transferred to Wesleyan from Muhlenberg College this January, started an organization this week called the Wesleyan Technology Front (WTF) that is attempting to combat this problem.
“I wasn’t planning on starting a group until there were things I couldn’t do on the Internet, and I saw that this was something a lot of students cared about,” Doernberg said. “I was talking to a film student today who had an assignment to watch a streaming video and he just can’t do it.”
Although Doernberg started the group as a response to the slow Internet, he said that the group had other more worldly goals including fighting online censorship in Egypt, China, and Iran.
“We believe in the power of participatory technology to enhance the human condition,” Doernberg said. “The group has been approved and the announcements are going out probably Sunday or Monday this week.”
Karen Warren, the director of User and Technical Services (ITS), said she recognizes the frustration students feel and is working to change the Internet experience on campus.
“Right now the University has connection to the Internet through the Connecticut Education Network,” Warren said. “Many schools in Connecticut connect through that network.”
Warren explained that an average home may have cable connection to the Internet. The speed of the Internet, measured in megabits per second (mbps), for these households is normally about 6-8 mbps, or even up to 12 mbps.
“Students come to Wesleyan and think there’s going to be this huge connection, but it’s actually harder when you have to scale out to a whole institution,” Warren said.
According to data collected using the website testmyspeed.com, the connection speed of Air Wes on a typical day ranged from 0.52 mbps to 1.88 mbps. The connection was slowest in the afternoon and evening, when most students are out of class. It was fastest from the early morning, when most students are sleeping, to noon.
Since Warren arrived at Wesleyan in Sept. 2008, the University has increased its total bandwidth three times, but it has been difficult for the University to keep up with the demand. Additionally, students now arrive on campus with not just laptops, but also smart phones, iPads, and other devices.
Warren said that ITS has been working to fix the speed of the Internet in various ways, including adding bandwidth during the nighttime and shifting over the administration’s daytime bandwidth to the students after administrative personnel leave each night.
ITS also decided to create a cap on the amount of bandwidth for any one user.
“The problem is that it’d be great if students were getting that maximum,” Warren said. “But we haven’t even had enough bandwidth for students to actually do that.”
Warren also added that Wesleyan is definitely not alone in the battle for faster Internet service.
“We talk to a lot of our peer institutions,” she said. “I talk to Trinity a lot, Connecticut College, and a lot of the schools close to us. It’s a problem that most of the schools have to a degree. But none of us can really keep ahead of this.”
But Warren confirms that change is coming.
“We’ve been in conversation with Connecticut Education Network and said to them this isn’t working,” she said. “We said we’re going to have to look for another provider to work in conjunction with them.”
When asked why the change did not happen sooner, Warren said that when the Connecticut Education Network began, they were more competitive. But over time, more providers have appeared and costs have come down in the commodity market. The University will still keep working with the Connecticut Educational Network, but now they will have two providers.
Warren explained though that there were benefits to being a long time custumer of the Connecticut Education Network.
“We know the inside [of], and the highest people at the Connecticut Education Network,” she said. “Now we’re just going to go to a regular provider, and it changes the game. We’re just one of however many custumers they have.”
According to Warren, the University has received bids from several companies and is hoping to increase its bandwidth to five times the current amount.
Additionally, Warren said that recently there has been a sharp increase in file sharing and downloading, which she links to the slow-downs.