Campus Bandwidth Limits Stifle Potential
I learned web design as a side project in high school. It was a timely skill to acquire in early 2000, considering the world, especially academia, was transitioning to an era where a website was more mandatory than luxury. This skill opened completely unrelated opportunities for me in my academic and professional life. If I wanted to work in a research lab or get a summer job, I offered a pertinent skill set in addition to graphic design bells and whistles.
I give this little anecdote to illustrate the pervasive value of extrinsic technological skills. In academia, students without these skills are subtly being left for dead. Pity the student who tries to email his 15 MB powerpoint to his teacher. Woe is the poor scientist who writes equations in Microsoft’s equation editor. Even the english major, once required to master only the typewriter (and always expected to operate above the technological whims of society), now benefits from knowing how to upload using FTP or bang out a quick html page. “Publish or perish” used to be the academic mantra. It’s now safe to add “innovate or die” to the list.
Let’s now turn to campus bandwidth limits. These upload/download limits are a misguided attempt to curb piracy. I use “attempt” because students are smart and resort to on-campus DC++ hubs to do their dirty business. I use “misguided” because these limits stifle students from learning cutting-edge ways to use the web. I was bandwidth-limited at Cornell and am bandwidth limited here at Rutgers. During these six years of digital repression, I missed out on using–and thus on learning–many of the web’s (legal) outlets, such as streaming content, remote desktop, running a server, grid computing, etc. Want to try linux? Too bad…those distro images can add up a good couple of gigs. Want to work on the same large dataset from home and lab? Not so fast, Pete-the-probable-pirate, you can resort to burning dvds and walking your data from hither to thither.
In case college administrators haven’t figured it out, students will do amazing things if allowed freedom, computers, and ways to share their bits and bytes. By limiting bandwidth, schools merely force Freddy-frat-boy to get the latest torrent through a different route, while capping the potential of students writ large. Bandwidth limits amount to nothing more than a silly stopgap that attacks the effect, rather than the cause, of piracy.