The University of South Dakota is just one of many United States colleges trying to keep up with an increased demand for faster, newer and better technology.
One of the most important technological aspects of a modern student’s life is Internet access, and a fall 2012 mobile computing survey found 25 percent of 657 USD students surveyed thought on-campus bandwidth needed
improvement, rating it as “poor or very poor.”
According to USD Director of Information Technology Cheryl Tiahrt, USD’s current bandwidth of 425 megabits per second (mbps) has only received about 40 complaints of network slowness through the university’s Help Desk throughout the academic year. However, Tiahrt said the mobile survey showed there was a wider demand for improved Internet than the Help Desk complaints reveal.
Information Technology Vice President Roberta Ambur said the survey shows growing demand for increased bandwidth.
“Industry-wide, things have changed,” Ambur said. “We are struggling to keep up with the demand.”
Ambur said the need for increased bandwidth was partly because of the large number of smartphones and tablets owned by today’s students.
These gadgets utilize the same bandwidth as computers, and higher numbers of devices using the bandwidth means slower Internet performance.
Tiahrt added that increased use of streaming sites such as Netflix, YouTube and Skype — which consistently rank among the top 10 most used websites on campus — also slowed Internet performance.
A Feb. 22 Argus Leader article examining the bandwidth at South Dakota State University found the university was having trouble serving its roughly 12,500 students with 924 megabits per second of bandwidth.
The lack of bandwidth led the SDSU Information Technology department to prioritize educational sites — such as Desire to Learn — over “leisure sites” like Netflix and YouTube. This slowed access to leisure sites, which drew outrage from SDSU students claiming entitlement to unlimited Internet access.
Tiahrt said USD prioritizes websites such as Desire to Learn and WebAdvisor, too.
“If there’s contention on the network and the pipe is full, we make sure that (priority sites) don’t get completely choked out,” she said.
Tiahrt said IT tries to keep the Internet running smoothly by limiting the amount of bandwidth one device can use and by increasing the bandwidth in residence halls after hours, when the need for bandwidth in other parts of campus decrease.
Both Tiahrt and Ambur stressed Information Technology wants to increase USD’s bandwidth.
“We’re always looking to increase the bandwidth,” Ambur said. “We have put a request in through the university budget process, so we’re waiting to hear.”
SDSU Vice President of Information Technology Mike Adelaine said his department was looking to increase its bandwidth in the fall.
“We’re at 900 megabits already,” Adelaine said. “The next increment is a complete change in circuits, which would mean over one gigabit. That would require an equipment change for us, which is a big deal.”
Adelaine said the university was trying to accommodate frustrated students by analyzing bandwidth use on campus and trying to evaluate the minimum amount needed around campus.
Board of Regents Chief Networking and Security Officer Claude Garelik said BOR provides the networking infrastructure for universities, but each university decides its own bandwidth based on how much it needs and can afford.
Garelik said the cost of bandwidth could be a deterrent for schools looking to increase their Internet speed. He said BOR schools are required by law to buy their bandwidth from the South Dakota Bureau of Information Technology at a rate of $18 per megabit per month. Buying bandwidth on the open market costs closer to $6 per megabit.
Garelik added that despite these high costs, the struggle to meet bandwidth demand was not unique to South Dakota.
“As far as I know, there is no university in this country that provides unlimited bandwidth, because it has to be budgeted for,” Garelik said. “It’s a universal problem.”
USD students had mixed opinions on campus Internet speed.
“In parts of the library, it’s slow,” sophomore Emma Vrtiska said. “Generally, it’s okay.”
Sophomore Amanda Hogg said she had used worse networks, but she was surprised at the quality of the Internet nonetheless.
“It’s more bad than good,” Hogg said. “I know it could be worse, but it lags a lot and that’s a hassle. You would think at a school like this it would be better.”