Internet needs have grown at incredible rates in the last ten years. New network technologies such as DSL (Digital Subscriber Lines) and cable modems are making it possible to connect to the Internet at speeds 10-50x faster than the rate of Penn's current 33.6 Kbps modem pool. The availability of these higher speed technologies has evolved to meet the demand for increased data transfer rates necessary for new applications and services commonly used today. This demand will only continue to increase and as it does, commercial high-speed Internet services will become even more readily available in a range of technologies at decreasing costs and with improving customer support for users. In short, you will be able to receive cheaper, faster, and better services through commercial vendors.
In response to these trends, effective July 1, 2000, Penn will begin to transition from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) business by charging for access to its modem pool services with the intention of eliminating the dialup pool altogether by July 1, 2002. Penn's modem pool service is already substandard (33.6 Kbps, with session limits) and the gap between what we can do and what the market can supply is increasing steadily.
In 1986, Penn offered sixteen dial-up modem lines. The University now supports a modem pool of 1,080 modems and nearly 14,000 users per month. While these services were originally offered when there were no commercial Internet Service Providers (ISPs) available, commercial ISPs now offer competitively-priced services with increasing speed and reliability. If Penn did not transition from the business, we would face substantial capital investment and increased operating costs in every year to come in an attempt to keep pace with the wide range of technologies and services readily available today through commercial ISPs. The modem pool has been funded in the past through a combination of user charges (as a component of the Central Service Fee charged to users of network connections on campus), the University General Fee, and allocated costs. Students in some schools pay a technology fee, but while schools may use this revenue stream to pay Central Service Fees that support common services (including the modem pool), there is no direct or explicit transfer of technology fee revenue from the schools to ISC to support the use of the modem pool. The unresolved difficulty is that each year's booming increase in demand fails to translate itself into dollars that would help us improve service. The result is inferior service funded by a system of cross-subsidies marked by unfairness and inequity.
Penn has been considering the need for a transition to commercial ISPs for remote access services since 1996. Since then, we have assessed the remote access needs and usage patterns of the University community, observed the trends, and investigated relevant emerging technologies. The University's Network Planning Task Force--comprising members from academic and administrative units across the University, including faculty and students--has advised and approved this analysis at every step. It is the strong conviction of this task force that ISC should not only phase-out its current modem pool as outlined above but also assist the University in rethinking and planning for drawing the lines of responsibility over the next two years of transition to commercial remote-access services.
This transition has been discussed with and approved by the Provost and Executive Vice President and has been the subject of extensive consultation with constituencies from across the University, including an all-University open forum in December and numerous meetings with leaders of representative groups. After consultation with the Deans, the consensus was that the individual schools would now decide whether they should provide any kind of services to their faculty, staff and students during the transition period.
During a two-year transitional period, ISC is planning a phased reduction of service. We are planning for a controlled migration of about 3,000 users every six months through 2002. To ease and facilitate this transition ISC is making the following changes:
In addition to offering Penn's for-fee service, ISC has negotiated preferred relationships with outside ISPs for the Penn user community. An important benefit of these negotiations is the user's ability to access PennNet services, such as e-mail, transparently.
We have negotiated these rates and service levels to assist the Penn user community in transitioning to commercial ISPs. Penn users may also sign-up with other outside ISPs, although some ISPs (particularly AOL) currently do not work seamlessly with many Penn-based services (such as email accounts, newsgroups, etc.). Just in recent weeks, ISPs offering free dialup service have been expanding and improving their offerings. ISC has been tracking these free offerings and will soon make recommendations about which free ISPs might work best for Penn users. A web page will offer current information about preferred and popular providers.
Listed in the charts below are the available service options for various constituencies and the reduced rates that have currently been negotiated for the Penn community. During the two-year transition period ISC will continue to negotiate with other vendors and investigate new technologies as they become available to drive costs lower while making increased customer service and support available for the Penn community.
Please be aware that the for-fee Penn service, available through June 30, 2002, will be useful mainly for local users (those within the city limits), inasmuch as most non-local users (outside the city limits) will incur a phone charge in addition to the $13/mo. charge. Users in New Jersey, Delaware, and even some Pennsylvania suburbs (including many users dialing in from the 610 area code) incur toll charges to connect. Commercial ISP connections will eliminate these charges through local dial-up points of presence, so many users will see a reduction in their overall dial-up costs by using commercial services.
The Penn service will have session limits and is capped at 33.6 Kbps, which is far slower than the 56 Kbps commercially available dialup services through non-Penn ISPs. Billing details for the Penn Service will be made available by April 30, 2000. Schools and centers have the option of choosing to reimburse selected individuals for use of the network that is essential to the University's business.
For users of the Penn modem pool service, please note that ISC officially discourages the use of private modem pools for network security reasons and will soon enact a policy prohibiting private pools. Multiple simultaneous logins to Penn modem pools are also prohibited: logging in to the same account by two or more users at the same time will be grounds for restriction of privileges.
To test the quality of the preferred vendor services, ISC will run a "free pilot" service to 180 users to test 56kbps commercial ISP service campus-wide beginning April 1. Pilot participants will receive free service with one of the preferred vendors for a limited three month time period in return for providing ISC with feedback on quality of service and related support issues. Pilot participants will be chosen by lottery. To participate in the pilot, please send your name, address, phone number and e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than Monday, March 27.
For more details, please go to the remote access program website at www.upenn.edu/computing/remote/remote-access.html. To assist with questions and concerns regarding these changes, ISC has created an email alias which is being read by the remote access planning team (which includes myself, ISC's Executive Director of Networking Mike Palladino, IT Roundtable Chair Ira Winston (of SEAS/SAS/GSFA), and other ISC Networking staff). Should you have questions about any of the policy changes listed above, please send e-mail to the alias at "email@example.com."
--James J. O'Donnell, Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 25, March 21, 2000