February 27, 2002

Faculty React To CIT Rates

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In addition to increasing prices for Internet access in residence halls, Cornell Information Technologies’ (CIT) recent decision to increase network fees will force University departments to dig deeper into their pockets to cover the cost of using the internet.

CIT’s rates for network services will increase an average of 4.5% in 2003, according to a memorandum sent by CIT to University departments.

“For Cornell University to continue to achieve its mission, a contemporary data network and telecommunications infrastructure is necessary and it requires ongoing investment and support from the community,” the memo said. “Upgrades in network electronics, building wire infrastructure and many edge and backbone networks have added to the need for increased rates.”

In the memo, CIT also conveyed that it will limit the use of hubs, which are devices that link multiple computers to a single internet access point.

“CIT rates for individual ports are calculated on the assumption that one individual user is working from that port,” the memo said. “The port charge includes not only the wiring and electronics that are located within the building but an assumed fair share of the campus backbone and Internet connection for that one individual user.”

While it has not disallowed the use of hubs, CIT has tried to implement rules and guidelines which would allow it to continue to operate within the current rate structure, said Polley Ann McClure, vice president of CIT.

In its original announcement of the rates increases, CIT outlined a number of scenarios in which the use of hubs is allowed, McClure said. It also asked people not to use hubs in such a way that they would avoid paying their share of network fees.

“Whether people realize it or not, when they use a hub to connect multiple people and computers to a port intended for a single user, they are avoiding paying the very real costs to the network of those multiple users,” she said. “In the end, other users end up paying their costs, which inflates the monthly rate and isn’t fair.”

Departments can afford the 4.5% rate increase for network access, according to many faculty and staff members.

“The rate increase that was recently announced of approximately 4% is possible to fund within our current budgets,” said Donna Updike, an administrator in the Departments of Natural Resources and Crop and Soil Sciences.

However, according to members of the faculty and staff, having to pay network access fees for each computer will be detrimental to their departments’ budgets.

“The need to comply with one user for one outlet will have considerable impact on departmental budgets,” Updike said. “Since it is necessary for us to live within our budgets, an increase of this magnitude will create many challenges for us.”

In a recent e-mail to his colleagues, one administrator predicted that the changes would raise his department’s annual cost approximately $40,000 a year.

Prof. Howard Howland, neurobiology and behavior, employs a hub in his lab, which currently holds 12 computers. He said that multiple people in his lab rarely use the Internet at the same time.

“For that reason, it would really cramp my style not to have hubs,” he said. “I don’t think my lab is atypical.”

Howland said that his network fees would go up 1200% if each computer was hooked to its own access point.

“This policy [limiting hub use] would be disastrous,” Howland said. “It would be destructive of communication.”

Jennifer Gerner, associate dean of the College of Human Ecology, said that the Faculty Advisory Board on Information Technologies (FABIT), which advises Provost Biddy (Carolyn A.) Martin on information technology issues, has urged the administration to consider gradually phasing in the policy on hubs.

“I have heard that some faculty are quite concerned about the policy on hubs,” she said. “Clearly there needs to be some consideration to phasing this in places where it would involve major financial disruption.”

Many faculty members said they are displeased that CIT has made policy without consulting them.

“They think of themselves as a business with a business plan but they are really a University service,” Howland said. “We are not so much clients as colleagues.”

However, McClure said that CIT will not earn additional revenue from the network fee changes.

“If the hublet rule is implemented and if there is additional net revenue, it will be used to adjust the changes for all users,” she said. “CIT will not be allowed to realize an unbudgeted gain because of it.”

FABIT has raised various concerns about the network fee increases, according to Gerner.

“FABIT members are concerned by the lack of broad discussion about the philosophy underlying cost recovery for the network at a major research institution like Cornell,” she said.

Gerner said that CIT’s allocation of network costs to users represents one philosophy but that “one might also argue that the network is a public good, like a library, and thus should be funded centrally.”

McClure said that CIT is considering providing computer labs and classrooms with a special rate so that each computer will not be charged individual access fees.

“In the event that we are not able to relax the announced hublet rule, we’re working on a special rate for this kind of facility that will be both fair and affordable,” she said.

FABIT members will meet with McClure and others on March 4 to discuss the rate increase for network access. Gerner said that FABIT has reason to believe that its concerns will be taken into account.

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