April 2, 2001

Email: Five Cents per Message

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Starting next Monday, e-mail may not be the cheapest way for Cornell students to reach out and touch someone. Cornell will charge students 2.5 cents for each kilobyte (about 1,000 characters) of incoming e-mail and 5 cents per kilobyte of outgoing e-mail, beginning April 9 at midnight. Monthly charges will be added to each student’s bursar bill, while itemized bills will be available through the Just The Facts information system in Bear Access.

Polley Ann McClure, Vice President for Information Technologies, crafted the policy to offset the rising costs of maintaining the University’s Internet connection and e-mail servers.

“A fast connection to the Internet is expensive,” McClure said. “And since the average size of e-mail messages in our system rose dramatically in March, e-mail has begun consuming a great deal of Cornell’s bandwidth.”

The increase in message size came as Napster, the Internet-based music exchange service, instituted a filtering system last month to block trading of copyrighted music files, a move necessary to comply with a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit filed against the company by the Recording Industry Association of America, which represents the major recording labels.

Thomas Braun, a systems and network specialist with Cornell Information Technologies, analyzed the changes in bandwidth usage. “I compared Napster traffic to e-mail traffic over the month of March,” he said.

The correlation Braun found was almost perfect — as Napster usage declined, e-mail message sizes ballooned. “Clearly, now that Napster is blocking popular music, students are trading files over e-mail,” he said.

The onslaught of large files — one MP3 is several thousand times the size of a simple text message — is crippling Cornell’s network infrastructure.

“Our e-mail servers and our Internet connection just weren’t made for that sort of load,” Braun said. “We have experimented with file size limits on e-mails, but we found they curtail some legitimate use.”

Under the new pricing structure, a typical text e-mail message would cost students only pennies. Sending a typical, 3,000-kilobyte MP3, though, would incur a $150 charge.

Students expressed dismay at the new policy. “Cornell already makes us pay for Internet service in the dorms,” said Albert Saunders ’03. “$150 for an MP3? That’s a punishment, not a reasonable fee.”

McClure said the expense would be minimal for “reasonable e-mail usage,” and that she intended the policy to deter only those students who abuse the system by sending many large files over e-mail. “We want students to use e-mail as they please,” she said. “But we can’t subsidize their own private Napster.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: April Fools! We got you this time. This story is not real.

Archived article by Andrew Fiore