Although the University has established itself as a leader in cutting edge research and technology, there is still one basic technology it doesn’t deliver: complete wireless Internet capabilities. Knowing this, it is bewildering to learn that University officials have recently chosen to develop a new security system for its wireless network without prioritizing basic, campus-wide Internet access. While it is certainly important that the University keep its online community safe, the University must also accelerate its efforts to establish a universal wireless network so that all of its students and faculty are able to connect at any place on campus.
As it stands, the existing wireless network is outdated and lacking in security. With old UM Wireless, users’ data was not necessarily secure unless they were using a secure application to protect data or were consciously visiting only secure websites. To tighten security, Information Technology Central Services is now providing wireless coverage with the new MWireless network. After downloading and installing MWireless software, wireless users will be linked to the University’s safest wireless network. MWireless uses a new, more sophisticated encryption system to protect users’ data.
And while ITCS is rightly fulfilling a responsibility to improve Internet security, it should simultaneously focus on increasing the reach of campus wireless Internet. Universities nationwide are enabling wireless access that span across entire campuses. The University of Minnesota, University of California at San Diego and even the much older Dartmouth University are among the colleges that have managed to provide full coverage of their campuses both indoors and outdoors. Even Ann Arbor’s friendly neighbor, Ypsilanti, has started a massive effort to blanket the region with broadband access. Yet, here in Ann Arbor, students are still struggling to get a signal.
Baits Residence Hall residents, who have no wireless connection, have felt the absence. Even students living in Central Campus residence halls like West Quad and East Quad can’t get wireless unless they are in a designated wireless lounge. It’s even more annoying that getting a strong wireless signal in buildings that are supposed to have wireless, like the Dennison Building or the stacks of the Hatcher Graduate Library, is sometimes nothing more than a fantasy. In a world where Internet access is becoming increasingly important in education, it’s unacceptable that so many students don’t have access unless they’re plugged into the wall. And, in classrooms where wireless access is unreliable or nonexistent, students don’t even have that option.
The University argues it hasn’t updated access faster because it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to equip even a single dorm hallway with wireless access. And, to be fair, wireless access has been added to many buildings that have undergone renovation. That makes sense, but the University’s other rationalization doesn’t. It argues that the popularity of wireless and 3G phones — which operate on their own networks — have caused the demand for wireless access to decrease. Currently, however, only about a quarter of University students have such a device. Besides, Internet access shouldn’t be limited to only economically advantaged students who can afford the fanciest gadgets.
Hopefully, one day campus will promise safe and widespread wireless access. But for now, the best bet for gaining instant wireless access in the comfort of an East Quad dorm room may be to fork over $200 for a Blackberry.