Students criticize IT Department for network, Wi-Fi issues

For the past few weeks, students have been pulling their hair out as they failed to connect to the Internet.

Many students complained that the Wi-Fi at Norwich University did not work properly and that was causing inconvenience for the students.

However, staff at the Information Technology Department (IT) at Norwich is trying its best to improve it, according to the staff members. They also say some of the issues are beyond their control.

The problems with “The Wi-Fi is really not working,” said Shelby Descoteaux, 21, a junior computer security information assurance major from Hudson, N.H.

Descoteaux is the highest junior cadet for the S6 at NU’s Corps of Cadets. Her section maintains cadet-related websites, as well as any paperwork such as the 9-1 form, PT scores and punishment records.

“I have no idea why the Wi-Fi is not working since the IT doesn’t tell our section or students anything,” Descoteaux said, adding that perhaps it was because of the way access points are set up in the hallways.

“I know that some floors have two access points near the stairs or one in the center of the hallway. I live in the middle of the hallway and my floor has two access points at the end of the hallways. So I don’t get any wireless service in my room.”

Access points (using wireless routers) are what the computer or mobile devices connect to in order to connect to the network, she explained.

For Descoteaux, not being able to move her laptop in her room is the biggest inconvenience. “It’s really frustrating because I have to use cable with my laptop and I can’t go on my bed to work on projects or get creative ideas.”

She also has been very displeased with IT and the administration. “Cadet Maj. Huntley brought up the Wi-Fi issue to Jackman but he was told to go to the IT. It doesn’t seem like Jackman is very concerned with our Wi-Fi.”

Descoteaux commented that students pay for the Wi-Fi service, but don’t feel they are getting what they pay for. “I confronted the IT about the Wi-Fi issue but the help desk just blew me off as if they didn’t care. I don’t think the IT put in any effort into improving.”

However, staff at the IT department confirmed that they are trying their best to improve the wireless connectivity issues and are aware of the issues.

“I think the majority of the user problem is the Wi-Fi,” said Jason Aldrich, manager of user services at Norwich.

Aldrich, who manages the entire IT help desk, noted that Wi-Fi at Norwich has improved significantly over the last couple of years. “Last semester went really smooth in terms of students connecting to the Wi-Fi. It was the same for this semester except there was a problem at the very start of the semester.”

The IT department fixed the issue but the problem re-occurred, causing issues for some students. “We thought we fixed it at the beginning of the semester but now it seems to be very sporadic.”

Aldrich didn’t want to comment on the technical aspects of the wireless system since he was not an expert in the field. However, he said that IT staff do put time in to try and fix Wi-Fi problems, saying that “just because our doors are closed at five doesn’t mean we’re ignoring the problems. We’re in the back trying to solve the issues.”

Although the IT department is trying its best, many students find the situation exasperating.

“It’s really a matter of principle. You pay for this service regularly but the IT or the school will tell you ‘too bad’ and it’s very inconvenient to students,” said Robert Gendron, 21, a senior criminal justice major student from Whitehall, N.Y.

“I use cable for Internet on my laptop but it really bothers me when I can’t use my mobile devices,” Gendron said.

He said he had noticed many students trying to use their mobile devices, such as tablets, in class for presentations but were not able to because of the connectivity issue.

“I saw some students use their cellular data on their phones but not everyone has enough data left on their phone,” Gendron said.

He said he had to pay extra charges because he went beyond his monthly data limit on his phone in an effort to get connectivity. “You can say that it’s my fault for not controlling my data usage, but I am naturally using my data because I can’t get the Wi-Fi.”

Gendron also said there’s an irony because NU boasts high technology infrastructure for computer related majors.

“I know academics and the IT department is two different things, but we say we have this great computer-related academic programs for students but students can’t get a decent Wi-Fi connection,” he said.

Not all students are furious over the Wi-Fi connections, focusing their attention on other issues or expressing a bit more patience.

“The Wi-Fi generally doesn’t support the need for the students,” said Philip Slack, 21, a junior criminal justice major from Jim Thorpe, Pa. However, unlike other students, he said that NU should invest its resources in getting a bigger bandwidth (the size of the pipe that allows digital data). “There are too many people using the Internet but the bandwidth is probably small so we have a slow connection.”

Norwich does have a small bandwidth, according to Perley Dexter, NU’s director of systems and operations, an issue that is unfortunately not in its control.

“Students probably have a DSL modem that provides wireless Internet in their household. It’s probably a 5 megabyte connection and they probably use most of it by themselves,” Dexter said.

He said that NU has 400 megabyte connection for 2,000 students to share. “Students stream videos, use game consoles, and other activities online. The bandwidth gets maxed out pretty quickly.”

“By eight at night, the bandwidth is maxed out and students are fighting each other for Wi-Fi,” Dexter said. He explained that the IT department is very limited in terms of increasing the Wi-Fi capacity.

“This is actually a common issue in many other universities and especially where Norwich is located,” Dexter said.

Many universities, including University of Illinois, Carnegie Mellon University, University of Texas, and Purdue University, have set student limitations on bandwidth. Students can purchase extra bandwidth or cope with a slower connection, according to their polices.

Norwich has to rely on its local telecom provider, TDS Telecom, which is where there is a bottleneck. “TDS is the only company in town that has the network infrastructure and it only produces a certain amount of bandwidth,” he said, adding that NU plans to increase the bandwidth over time.

“NU will have to invest more finance to it because Wi-Fi is an important factor for student experience,” Dexter agreed.

However, since the bandwidth is limited by the service provider’s capability, the IT department is very limited in what it can do.

“We could get a different company for the Internet but then the new company will be using TDS’s infrastructure by paying a fee. So we’ll be paying more for the same quality,” Dexter explained.

Wi-Fi connectivity does differ throughout campus, noting, “There are three issues that cause slower Internet connections.” One is the materials used in the dorm construction.

Dexter said that some doors in dorms block Wi-Fi from getting into rooms. “Some students reported they had better connection with their doors opened,” he noted.

His department tried to resolve this issue by installing more access points in dorms. “Wi-Fi is just a wireless protocol that attaches the user device to a protocol. However, the more people you have, the more you have to share, so we added more access points.

For example, Dexter said that South Hall doesn’t have any problems with the connection because it was built with different materials.

A second issue, according to Dexter, is that the external bandwidth is simply maxed out. “Imagine eight at night on Sunday when everyone comes back on campus. You will see significant loss in connectivity.”

The last issue is caused by students. “We found out that some students tried to solve the Wi-Fi issue by themselves by unplugging the access points and then plugging them back in,” Dexter said.

This kind of action causes a ripple effect. “Once you unplug the access point, everyone near you gets kicked off from the Internet. However, their devices will continue to try to connect to the nearest access point.”

Once the access point is plugged back in, the student may experience a better connection for a very short time. However, the devices that were kicked off will soon come back on, slowing the connection to the original speed.

Dexter strongly discouraged students from doing this and said the IT department may lock the access points.

In recent weeks, students had experienced another connectivity issue that was rather unusual and caused by a student. “This is a really rare case but students were not able to get connected or they were connected but could not get online,” Dexter said.

He said his department found out that a student tried to manually configure a smart television. However, the student misconfigured it and tricked all the other computer devices to try to connect to his smart television.

“This made an impact on the entire student wireless connection. Word to the wise is, if you can’t connect it, visit the IT help desk,” Dexter said, as he added that students should escalate their issue if they are not getting responses from the help desk.

“All of our access points are connected to a switch in the hallway. We tracked down which room and which device the student was using,” he said. After they tracked the student, Dexter’s IT team configured the device correctly.

“We took all the information that we needed and came back to reproduce the issue. We were able to reproduce the issue multiple times and solve the problem,” Dexter said.

The student wasn’t punished because it was not an intentional act. “We certainly have policies that protect our network from any malicious act. However, this student was just trying to connect to the Internet so there was no punishment,” Dexter explained.

However, Norwich has the authority to investigate and take action. “The IT is like police, we don’t make policies but we enforce it. If there is an investigation, we will fully help Peter Stevenson, NU’s Chief Information Security Officer,” Dexter said.

Dexter lives only five and a half miles away from campus and is sympathetic to student complaints regarding Wi-Fi. “I work in the IT and it requires me to work at home a lot. However, I didn’t have wireless service until a year and a half ago, and the past and current governor of Vermont played a big role to provide wireless network to people.”

Although Norwich’s network infrastructures are high quality, according to Dexter and Aldrich, Norwich’s main hurdle is its current service provider. “As technology rapidly grows, I hope we’ll soon be able to increase our Wi-Fi capabilities and we plan on expanding over time,” Dexter said.

He asked students and faculty to help the IT department. “We have surveys for students to fill out. Please fill them out and provide us the information. Don’t simply assume that we know the answers. We need information and student input.” Dexter said simply complaining will not help: Contact the help desk and don’t’ try to resolve the issue yourself.

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