By Anniw Kinniburgh
The fall 2008 semester will bring relief for students frustrated with UMW’s spotty internet access and slow download speeds.
The University is currently in negotiations to purchase extra bandwidth from a commercial provider that would alleviate internet-related problems.
“The demand from the whole community, not just the residence halls, has been growing,” said Chip German, vice president of information and technology. “We’ve reached the point where this has to happen.”
The additional bandwidth will result from a direct connection between the campus and the city of McLean.
German referred to Northern Virginia as the “internet capital of the world.”
“Northern Virginia has the greatest concentration of huge capacity connections in the area,” he said, calling that area a “reservoir” of available bandwidth.
To provide the direct connection, UMW put in a request for bids from major telecommunications companies like Verizon and Cox.
The University will choose the company that offers the best price quote.
The current bandwidth operates at 44.736 megabits per second. German said that the University hopes to get as much as four to five times that amount with the help of a new provider.
“That would double or triple our current connection speeds,” he said.
Frequent network problems in residence halls across campus have resulted in students being unable to load websites, use instant messaging software or access the UMW network through Cisco Clean Access Agent.
These problems can be caused by heavy student traffic or even inclement weather.
UMW currently buys its internet access through Network Virginia, a provider that also handles contracts for many public entities such as other universities and public organizations.
In addition to problems with the University network, problems with Network Virginia services can also disrupt internet access at UMW.
“We buy it, they contract it, and when it malfunctions, we have to rely on them to fix it,” German said. “It is an extremely complex network.”
This past weekend, an undiagnosed problem based at Network Virginia resulted in disrupted internet connectivity across campus for several days.
German said that because the problem was not with UMW’s equipment, there was nothing the University could do.
“It’s extremely frustrating for our network technicians when everyone is thinking it’s a problem here when actually it’s in the outside environment,” he said.
The extra bandwidth provided by the direct connection would eliminate such an occurrence, German said.
“This is exactly why we’re buying new bandwidth,” he said. “The problems over the weekend would probably not have happened with it.”
Additionally, although Network Virginia will still handle the contract between the University and the new provider, it will no longer provide the bandwidth.
Currently, UMW pays $53,000 a year for Internet access. German said that the new services should cost approximately the same amount, but that new equipment to install and run the system will cost about $30,000.
“It will definitely cost us more, but we will be getting more use per dollar out of our network in the future,” German said.
Sophomore Laura Pilati created the Facebook group “How-To Guide on Using the UMW Internet,” which gives sarcastic advice on using the network.
“It’s an issue that concerns everyone,” she said. “This should be an example of what things will be like in the future if nothing is done.”
German estimated that it will take 60 to 90 days for the vendor to get the equipment and install the network, but that the eventual result will be improved Internet access for the students.
“Everything online will be more reliable and will happen faster,” he said. “Almost everything online has the potential for having academic merit, and we want to give students access to that.”
Bids for the contract will close on Friday, and according to German, a new vendor should be selected within a few days.