Oxy Introduces Software to Speed Academic Internet Use
When Internet access to web pages slowed to a near crawl this fall at Occidental College, administrators launched an investigation into the cause.
Their findings were hardly music to the ears: 48 percent of inbound Internet traffic was being used by students to download music-trading files like Napster. The news for outbound traffic was worse: 87 percent of the College’s computer bandwidth was being used to supply music to music-swapping programs.
Concerned that the fast-growing practice would stifle academic use of the Internet, the College recently installed a $10,000 computer program called “Packet Shaper,” an increasingly popular application that allows administrators to slow access to select web applications.
While a number of colleges and universities banned Napster a year ago, Occidental is among the first liberal arts colleges in the country to regulate cyberspace access. The results were immediate. Logging on to Internet search engines like Yahoo!, which previously could take 30 seconds, now takes less than two seconds. In other instances, non-music related downloads that could stretch more than 24 hours without Packet Shaper can now be completed in minutes, according to Thomas Slobko, the College’s associate vice president of information and technology services.
Music sharing programs such as Napster, Gnutella, iMesh and Scour now receive the lowest computer priority at Occidental, allotted 12 percent of the bandwidth. That ensures that students, faculty and staff who hold web meetings, send e-mail or use chat rooms will not be inconvenienced by system stalls.
“We take very seriously our obligation to provide the very best computing and networking facilities for our students and faculty and will not hesitate to spend whatever it takes to make our network fast and easy to use for educational purposes,” Slobko said. “We believe that uses unrelated to the College mission should not negatively impact our work or waste resources that could be better used elsewhere.”
Slobko said changes also benefit prospective students logging on to Occidental’s web site, a critical information source on everything from admissions procedures to financial aid requirements. Occidental joins a number of colleges and universities nationwide that are using Packet Shaper.
Slobko said the College decision to prioritize Internet usage is strictly a means to keep its computer network running efficiently for academic uses and students’ more vital personal business, like buying airline tickets.
“We’re not in the slightest interested in banning Napster,” he said. “That just wouldn’t feel like Occidental College. But we felt we had to do something to preserve the Internet’s more useful applications. We feel we’re on the students’ side on this issue.”
Of 40 top liberal arts colleges and universities that responded to a recent Internet survey by the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges, 18 campuses, including Occidental, decided to use Packet Shaper or a similar system to limit access to music-sharing programs. Ten schools opted to ban access altogether.
Napster was the first music-sharing program in the nation to gain notoriety on college campuses and in the recording industry. It has brought legal challenges by music industry officials who claim the practice amounts to copyright infringement. One major record label, BMG Entertainment, recently joined forces with Napster and is proposing to charge users a monthly membership fee. As envisioned, money would then be paid to musicians and record labels.