Campus Internet explained; student feedback wanted

Nicole Capozziello

Incomprehensible to some, baffling to most, and simply written off as “a series of tubes” by others, the Internet is currently one of the least understood yet most complained about topics on campus.
The Internet is utilized daily by over a thousand members of students, faculty, and staff, yet remains a mystery to most of its users.
Overshadowing the lack of understanding most students have of the Internet is the larger issue of communication between Information Technology Services and the rest of campus.
Of course, faults lie on both sides of this issue. Communication between ITS and the rest of campus has in the past seemed very limited if existent at all.
Recent efforts by ITS to seek feedback on the Internet have included the wireless feedback boards around campus as well as the ITS customer satisfaction survey.
The survey will be open through Sun., April 15. At this point, a mere 26 percent of the 1,404 students sent the survey have completed it.
ITS and Director of Research Administration Bill Skinner encourage those who have not completed the survey to take the time to do so. Feedback is essential for ITS to improve the Internet around campus, and this is the first time that they have offered a survey, though they are hoping to conduct it annually.
On the other side of this issue, though many students complain about the Internet to their friends, few actually take the time to offer ITS constructive criticism.
Ben Willard, president of the Computer Science Club and ITS employee, advises students to be specific with their complaints.
Offering ITS specific information such as the time the problem occurred, the computer used, and the operation attempted can only aid in discover the true root of the error.
While researching, I found that the Internet is an ever-present and unifying subject of aggravation among students. Most students’ main complaints lie in the speed and reliability of the Lawrence Internet.
In fact, when preparing to interview Steve Hirby, Chief Information Officer, I discovered that the Lawrence Webmail was down, preventing me from accessing my interview information.
In my research of Lawrence’s Internet services, I learned not only the explanation for this malfunction but more about the Internet than I ever thought I would know. With this knowledge, however basic, comes the power to bestow it unto others.
As is true with many aspects of the world, to understand the extent of a problem, one must first have some understanding of the system, a system I also previously wrote off as far outlying my own comprehension.
To begin, the Internet at Lawrence is composed of two parts: the Lawrence network and the Internet connection to the outside world.
Our campus network, which includes Webmail and Voyager, currently has 100 megabytes per second of bandwidth, a fiber-optic speed that normally allows campus Internet to function consistently and speedily.
The campus network can function independently of the other connection, which explains why sometimes Webmail is accessible while virtually nothing else is.
Our connection to the World Wide Web, however, dwarfs the bandwidth of the campus network with only 20 megabytes per second.
At this point, I will shamefully resort to an oversimplified analogy, as explained to me by Hirby, and unfortunately not accompanied by an illustration: Imagine the Internet as a large pipe.
All of the Web pages, music files, videos and images that people try to view or download pass through this pipe, broken into small bundles of information known in the technological world as “packets.”
Naturally, only so many packets can go through the pipe at once. The packets that make up videos, music and images specifically are composed of larger packets, or bundles.
All three of these, particularly videos, have recently become more prevalent as YouTube has become as indispensable to society as juicers or Oprah Winfrey.
As our system was not intended to handle these larger packets so frequently, our Internet has encountered problems with speed and reliability.
“Essentially, our demands for usage are outpacing our current capabilities,” explained Hirby.
Another reason for the current problems may be virus-ridden computers, which add extra strain to the network. ITS is working hard to locate and fix these computers.
Hope for faster Internet is on the horizon, however. ITS’s budget proposal for next year includes adding 50 percent to our current bandwidth, making it 30 megabytes per second. ITS is also planning to expand and improve wireless on campus.
This will entail not only adding more access points to places where wireless is already available, but also making it available in every classroom and dormitory common spaces.
These projects will begin this summer though it has yet to be decided which will take place first.
Members of the Lawrence community can give their opinion of the Internet connection on campus by filling out the ITS customer satisfaction survey, available through Sun., April 15.