posted 2012-02-01 10:34:21

Tenfold Increase In Bandwidth at Brookdale Residence Hall

Kimberly Devi Milner

Staff Writer

Responding to waves of complaints raised by Brookdale Campus residents about feeble Wi-Fi last semester, Hunter has spent over $100,000 upgrading the Residence Hall’s wireless network. The leading project to increase the building’s Internet bandwidth tenfold, from 100 MegaBit to 1 GigaBit service, was completed early last week in time for the spring semester said the college’s Chief Information Officer, Franklin Steen.

But despite the increased bandwidth capacity at Brookdale Residence Hall, which is home to over 600 students, incompatible and unadjusted hardware may still prevent optimal speeds.

According to the ICIT official, the building’s Wireless Access Points, or the devices that transmit wireless signals to individual dorm rooms need to be adjusted. “Last term we replaced all 80 access points in a day or so,” said Steen. “But we put them where the old ones were. They’re faster, but after we did surveys we realized they weren’t in the optimal locations.”

Steen said the access points will be re-installed by professional contractors in several weeks. Other improvements ICIT will make include installing more compatible switches to facilitate Internet transmission from Verizon to Brookdale. But even without the network hardware optimally positioned, residents have noticed significant improvement from the poor network access that plagued Brookdale during the fall semester.

As Brookdale returned to full capacity at the start of the new semester last August, frustrated residents felt Wi-Fi access had hit a nadir. “It was really bad in the beginning of the semester” said Community Advisor Cindy Prettypaul. “Then Brookdale Council started a sign up sheet that ended up being 5 or 6 pages long.”

The complaint sheets were circulated by Brookdale Commissioner, Eric Yanez, at dormitory-wide meetings in early September and sent to ICIT. Yanez brought up student frustration with weak wireless signals at USG meetings, and coordinated a mid-October email blast that encouraged residents with internet complaints to contact ICIT directly, instead of filing cases through the Office of Residence Life.

“I just kept telling people individually,” said Yanez. “When I saw a complaint on Facebook I’d post ICIT’s telephone number.” According to an ICIT Student Help Desk representative, the office received over 100 complaints in the beginning of the Fall semester.

ICIT attributed the lagging Internet speed and access to increased network activity, as students regularly use multiple wireless devices, like phones and tablets in addition to laptops. According to Steen, the Sunday after last Thanksgiving 800 wireless devices were connected to the network. “That’s more than one device per student.”

“When they built this building in the 50’s they weren’t thinking about Wi-Fi,” said Director of Residence Life, Pamela Burthwright. “We’ve always had internet issues. The first year we got wireless students were sitting outside their rooms with their laptops. Brookdale’s Internet’s gradually grown but so has the need.”

“I’m a chronic complainer,” said Burthwright, “but IT after a while didn’t want to hear from me – they wanted to hear from the students. Even if a student thought, oh, my next door neighbor filed I shouldn’t have to file, we encouraged them to file.” Both Yanez and Burthwright felt the experience was valuable for students to learn to self-advocate.

But for junior Kristin Jones who was completely unable to access Hunter’s purple Wi-Fi login screen, communicating with the Help Desk for over two months was disappointing. The cases she filed were quickly closed as ICIT replied that new routers were installed; if her Internet signal bar remained poor, they suggested she go to the lounge or computer lab. “I live at the end of the hallway which is not close to the lounge area, and my housing and IT fee is paid just like everyone else’s” Jones replied to ICIT in September. By mid-October she had stopped reopening closed cases. “I was calling and emailing the Student Help Desk every other day, and nothing was getting done. So I just basically had to deal.”

Media major Valerie Valentine invested in a 4G portable Internet connection after not being able to connect to Hunter’s Wi-Fi. “I’m a DJ, so I need to download music,” said Valentine. Before buying her portable internet connection, Valentine said she did whatever work she could do in the Brookdale computer lab, and went often to her home in Westchester.

But for a majority of students, the internet substantially improved after ICIT began to upgrade its routers. With the new bandwidth, both ICIT and Brookdale staff are hoping the building’s internet access will be adequate for the semester’s full capacity residence. “I’m hoping that’s all. We’re going to have to wait to see,” said Yanez. “Dealing with the internet problem was a very complicated process. For the most part, anything ICIT could do to fix the problem they did. I’m hoping we don’t have a repeat of last semester. But if we do we’ll deal with it accordingly.”

Jones was able to access her internet for the first time in mid-November. “My internet is a lot better now,” said the English major. “I can tell that something’s been done to fix it.”