September 26, 2008

New Policy Tracks Internet Use, Caps Downloads

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On June 1, Cornell Information Technologies changed Cornell students’ Internet access. Now, every student’s Internet traffic, whether it be through ResNet or Red Rover, is monitored and recorded by NetID. Students are subject to a 10 Gigabyte network usage cap per semester. The old policy did not monitor internet access through RedRover and used a 5 Gigabyte cap.
Traffic monitoring, conducted through CIT’s Network Usage Based Billing (NUBB) System, records all ResNet [img_assist|nid=32105|title=Surf’s up|desc=Nina Shin grad and Tim Chury surf the Internet Duffield Hall yesterday. CIT’s new policy monitors and caps students’ Internet use at 10 Gigabytes.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]connections to external addresses, including IP address and quantity of data transferred. Although CIT gathers information about user activity, individual logs are neither analyzed nor actively monitored, except under “suspicion of violation of law or policy with the permission of the appropriate university official.”
Ample warnings of network monitoring have effectively deterred students from using common file sharing protocols such as BitTorrent to download pirated music or media. Chris Fairfax ’12 affirming the effect of Cornell’s tech policy, said, “Because of the cap and Cornell’s monitoring policy, it seems that many freshmen are really avoiding [peer-to-peer] file sharing like BitTorrent.”
In response both to Internet traffic monitoring and usage caps, many students have opted for file sharing within the Cornell network. Programs such as DC++ and ShakesPeer allow users to share files with local peers. Since the connections are confined within the University, they are not counted towards the NUBB cap. However, shared files can very easily be tracked back to the initial owner, and since peer transfers are also routed through Cornell’s network, CIT can similarly monitor local traffic.
Network hardware is also being updated. Wired connections vary between 1.12 Megabytes per second in the older residence halls to 11.2 MiB/s in the newer halls such as Mews and Court/Kay/Bauer. Recently, Cornell erected hardware to support 112 MiB/s in the three West Campus residential colleges. RedRover is generally available throughout Central Campus and in several peripheral locations. Wireless hubs are currently being added to Clara Dickson Hall and Mary Donlon Hall on North Campus.
Amidst the rapid technological renovations, problems have still struck some of the older dorms, particularly Clara Dickson Hall and the Baker Tower, where students have reported some persistent network outages.
According to Bill Smolinski ’12, “It seems like they don’t have a large enough workforce because it always takes them a long time to fix stuff. Whether it’s a server broken down or whether the Internet in Dickson breaks for a week.”
The second change of the CIT policy revision highlights a unique factor of Cornell students’ Internet access: the usage cap. As students can now use up to 10 Gigabytes through ResNet and RedRover for free, additional usage is charged at $1.50 per Gigabyte. According to CIT’s policy page, this NUBB system is the most equitable cost-recovery method available.
Some freshmen students who are unaccustomed to the capping procedure, are upset by the policy.
Gerard Cicero ’12 said, “It’s just not enough.”
However, many students’ usage falls well below the cap, and for these individuals, the cap does not enter into consideration. Summer Sutton ’09, who is pleased with Cornell’s Internet access, said, “Cornell’s wireless Internet is the most reliable … I heard about the bandwidth cap, but it doesn’t really affect me.”
Similarly, Raymond Wu ’11 said that he has never been concerned about his Internet usage, but that he has been well educated about the issue.
“[CIT] does a good job of keeping us informed about their policies.”
Cornell’s cap is also successful in deterring some particularly resource- and bandwidth-intensive Internet activities, namely peer-to-peer file sharing. Since total bandwidth is limited, the capping practice ultimately provides faster access for most conventional users. Harvard University, M.I.T., and Brown University, who responded to The Sun’s inquiries, reported that their students do not have usage caps.
Columbia University does not have usage caps, but rather throttles bandwidth so that regular browsing is given priority in network access over download volumes typical of large loads or peer-to-peer networking. Cornell’s policy does not discriminate between data types or usage quantity.
Previously, the cap was raised from 2 to 5 Gigabytes in 2006. CIT has no plans to raise the cap further in the near future.
Students can check their Network Usage Based Billing at
CIT refused to comment.