Internet access to change

With 14,000 people clamoring for its 1,080 modems, the University’s modem pool is “facing technological obsolescence.”

That was the message Jim O’Donnell, Vice Provost of Information Systems and Computing and Professor of Classical Studies, told a near-capacity crowd gathered at College Hall Dec. 1 to discuss a proposal to close down its modem pool by July 1, 2001.

Since 1988, Penn has offered free Internet service to students, faculty and staff living off campus. But the out-of-date technology, which runs at 33.6 kilobits per second (kbps) as compared to the now standard 56 kbps, offers a relatively low quality of service, with time limits at peak periods.

This old system costs $1 million a year — about $1,000 per modem.

“We’ve had to get our funding from the nickels and dimes out of sofa cushions,” O’Donnell said, not from the users of the service. Undergraduates living on campus help pay for the modem pool, but students living off campus do not. “People who benefit from services should be paying for them.”

Penn’s Network Planning Task Force outlined a two-phase plan for updating the system, to be decided upon in late January.

Phase one, to start July 2000, involves charging $120 to $150 for one-year use of the modem pool, with a separate “express pool” — with no charge but limited to 20-30 minutes — as a possibility to ease transition to the new service.

Phase two would eliminate Penn’s modem pool entirely by July 2001. O’Donnell said that these changes would make Penn comparable to sister institutions such as Princeton, which offers no-fee limited service, and Cornell, which charges a fee.

Displaced modem-pool users would be encouraged to seek out commercial Internet service providers, and Penn is in the process of negotiating preferred pricing and service deals.

Why the quick turnaround?

O’Donnell explained his “Band-Aid algorithm”: a quick removal is less painful than a slow one.

And to those who decried the University for not paying for their Internet service, O’Donnell replied that it is difficult to attribute responsibility for a medium that, like the telephone, is for both personal and professional use. “Bill Clinton said he is doing his Christmas shopping on line this year. I’m sure my tax dollars are subsidizing part of that.”


Originally published on January 20, 2000