Wireless devices can connect students to information faster than any library or encyclopedia – unless they’re on the Texas State Wi-Fi.
According to an April 11 University Star article, Mark Hughes, associate vice president of technology resources, said the network’s general unreliability stems from the 5,000 to 7,000 connection attempts made at any given point in the week. This number may sound high, but is quite low compared to the roughly 34,000 people on campus. Airports, shopping malls and hotels – some with more traffic than the campus – all maintain Wi-Fi networks able to meet their users’ demands. Growing pains are to be expected, but the technology to keep tens of thousands of people wirelessly connected is available.
The problem, as usual, comes down to funding.
The editorial board finds it hard to believe the university was able to find the money to upgrade Bobcat Stadium’s seating capacity to 30,000 – more than twice the highest average attendance on record – but lacks funding to address a very real traffic problem that directly impacts students’ academic resources. The extra elbowroom from empty seats at football games would be more appreciated if students could tweet between plays via Wi-Fi.
The sports fee attached to tuition offsets some athletics costs. “Free” home sporting events are a nice perk to attending Texas State, but the number of students who get their money’s worth by attending games regularly is debatable. Far more students use the campus Wi-Fi daily than attend even the most crowded of home sporting events, yet all Bobcats pay the sports fee whether they attend or not. Sports are a fun and crucial aspect of the Texas State experience, but they do not aid in academic productivity the way a reliable Wi-Fi connection does. Allocating a fee for athletics but not connectivity shows poor prioritizing.
Advocating an additional fee after numerous complaints about the bus fee, sports fee and recent increase in parking fees may understandably sound hypocritical, but Wi-Fi is nearly universally used, more so than the buses or seats at football games. A low electronic services fee attached to tuition could provide necessary funding to get the Wi-Fi up to speed. Such a fee could also pay for extra computers and printers for the library, the highest-traffic area for printing on campus, as well as cheaper color-printing options. Because the WPA-encrypted Wi-Fi requires a login, the fee would not even need to be mandatory – students who choose to opt out can use the unprotected guest network.
Students currently frustrated with connectivity problems have a few options to improve their situation. For those on smartphones and tablets, 3G reception on campus is not any less reliable than the Wi-Fi at peak hours, and service will only get better soon thanks to agreements between Texas State technology resources and the three major carriers. Typical usage (checking e-mail, TRACS, Facebook, etc.) does not consume enough data to push most smartphone owners over their monthly limit, and utilizing 3G networks frees up the Wi-Fi for those who need it. Laptop users can carry cheap Ethernet cables with their chargers and plug into network wall jacks, which are more common on campus than most probably realize.
Texas State is in a transitional period. Traffic — digital and on foot — is at an all-time high and will only get higher. Some infrastructure issues are to be expected, but must be dealt with quickly to keep the university competitive. In an age when more students get their study material from the Internet than the library, a reliable Wi-Fi is a basic necessity at any university.