Computer Services Concerned about Increasing Costs of Internet file-sharing services

Cameron Kramlich

Despite the well-publicized shut down of online ?peer to peer? file sharing service Napster, students across the country have managed to find alternatives for that late night music fix. Like a hydra, the death of Napster has caused many alternative networks to appear. A major difference with this new generation of peer to peer, or P2P, file sharing network is that users can search not only for music but as well for software that runs on computers. The continued popularity of such services has placed an unprecedented strain on campus networks across the country.
The three most popular third generation p2p networking services, Kazaam, Bear Share and GNUtella combined have consistently accounted for over 90% of the outbound Internet traffic since the beginning of school. Over the course of a typical 24 hour day, this means that more than 60 gigabytes of files are transferred across the Internet from Lawrence computers. That is an average of 50 megabytes per student, per day of outbound traffic. Because Lawrence pays for the Internet on a per unit of data transferred basis, the costs to the university are significant.
Although the Internet connection at Lawrence is partially subsidized by the state of Wisconsin, that subsidy applies only to the fixed portion of the internet bill. According to head network administrator Robert Lowe, ?We pay a small portion of the line charges, i.e. the fixed portion similar to a telephone bill, but we pay all of the bandwidth usage and Wiscnet charges based upon periodic traffic measurements.? Although the precise figures are unable to the Lawrentian, given a market bandwidth price of $1 per 500 megabytes of traffic, outbound file sharing services probably cost the university in the neighborhood of $4,000 a month during the school year. This figure is above the costs for providing the services used most for legitimate purposes like the web, ftp, email and instant messenger.
Presently, although computer services is concerned about the escalation of this expense no decision has been made for any remediation. Network Administrator Low argues that it would be appropriate to limit the outbound traffic used by file sharing services. This restriction would not detrimentally affect the quality of inbound internet service on campus. According to Low, ?We have a wonderful resource but it is being predominantly used by non-Lawrence community people.?
Disregarding the legal implications of such file sharing, it would be politically impractical to restrict inbound traffic for these services. Because network usage typically follows a traffic pattern of 10% of users consuming 90% of bandwidth, computer services occasionally asks the individuals who most disproportionately use the common resources to reconfigure a portion of their file sharing system. Computer Services is considering a broader campaign to educate students about the costs associated with this particular kind of internet usage. The crux of this campaign would be to educated users that Kazaam, Bearshare as well as many popular GNUtella clients like Limewire all offer users the option of reducing the amount of bandwidth for shared files.
Computer Services is presently in a Hobsonian situation of either choosing the politically impractical solution of restricting internet usage or facing a further escalation of bandwidth expense in an era of shrinking budgets. According to Rob Low, ?Our aims are to improve service, not just putting road blocks in front of people all the time.?