I was at my summer job at a temp office in Scranton, PA, when I received the email informing me that the campus internet system had been “renovated” over the summer into an exclusively Wi-Fi based system. No Ethernet ports would be active, let alone accessible.
To me, then going into my fourth year at West Chester University, this sounded like a resoundingly poor decision. I am not a Computer Science major, but I’ve used computers all my life. I knew enough to say that forcing almost 5,000 residents, hundreds of staff, and thousands of commuters to use only Wi-Fi was a bad idea.
Even a strong network of this kind would struggle during peak hours, but in my time here WCU’s network has always had a bad reputation, and a habit of crashing or locking students out on a fairly regular basis. The amount of bandwidth necessary to maintain adequate speeds is exceptionally high, I’m sure, and I felt then that with more devices forced onto the Wi-Fi network than ever before, it would be a disaster.
The prospect of an actual upgrade was tantalizing, of course. Never having to worry about the network crashing during finals week would be a blessing. But over the course of the year, I lost connection hundreds of times. I would get 20 minutes (on average) to a few hours (on a good day) of stable connection before the next reset.
One of the best issues I saw repeatedly was the signal having five bars of connection, perfect strength, but would not actually work. Or other times, the network would completely vanish from the list of possible connection points. That was my personal favorite.
It took almost two months before ResNet came up with a solution for me, which was to just open the port in my room. It took endless amounts of prodding just to get that, and even that they had originally told me they couldn’t do. It’s not just myself, either. Students in Killinger Hall and the South Campus apartments have told me about their inability to get a decent connection, despite having the WiFi connection points located in their rooms, as opposed to the hallway, as was the case for me.
These issues extended to the classroom as well. I have had multiple professors ridicule the state of our internet, with one actually making the claim that McDonald’s does a better job of providing Wi-Fi to its customers, which I feel makes a good point. Are we not customers of this university? We pay to attend WCU, to take classes here and in many cases live on campus. I paid a $218 “Technology Fee” to the university this semester alone, which I would imagine goes at least partially towards our internet in some capacity. If I got this quality of service from an independent Internet Service Provider (ISP) for that price, I would demand a refund and switch providers.
I’ll admit, I’m someone who enjoys playing video games, streaming videos, and generally using the internet for leisure. However, I, like most students, have a significant amount of schoolwork that requires internet access to complete. There is research to do, tests and quizzes to take on D2L, and of course endless emails to exchange with professors. Therefore, when I say we need consistent internet as a community, it is not simply because I am frustrated that I can’t connect to Xbox Live. However, I do want to be able to use the internet as I see fit during my leisure time as well. I am paying, in some capacity, for this service and I expect it to work as intended.
The internet is an integral part of modern education in the United States, and the fact that we pay for it, but do not readily receive it, is outrageous. It can actually be damaging to our education, and that, to me, is unacceptable. Students should not constantly worry that they aren’t going to be able to access what they need to when they need to. To me, the solution seems simple: just open the Ethernet ports. Routers may interfere with the Wi-Fi; so ban them. At least give students the option to plug in a cable if the internet cuts out on them for the fifth time that night.
Thomas Abramouski is a fifth-year student double majoring in English writing and Communication Studies. He can be reached at TA778104@wcupa.edu. His Twitter handle is @TitaniumLegman.