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Wireless Not Spot: Why Tufts Can’t Connect

News & Features | February 15, 2011
Ryan Stolp

As high school students pursue their college searches these days, they often turn to online message boards, where current university students can provide valuable insider answers to their questions. So what is one of the most pressing insider issues that these prospective students ask about on websites like “College Confidential”? None other than the intense and ongoing debate about wireless Internet access—or lack thereof.

Until recently, a lack of Wi-Fi would not be a problem at all for either current or prospective students. But then again, only recently have classrooms filled with the sound of clicking laptop keys, and only recently have students begun to rely on the Internet for assignments and information from professors. Times have changed. For the past 10 years, Tufts has kept up with this change and had a wireless network. The only problem is, the network is not campus-wide. Currently, some larger residence halls with no or only partial wireless inlude Miller, Hodgdon, Lewis, Richardson, South, and Tilton Halls. While almost all of the academic buildings on campus have wireless Internet access, getting a dorm with Wi-Fi is really luck of the draw. According to the plans of Tufts University Information Technology (UIT), more and more buildings are gradually getting wireless Internet. UIT representative Dawn Irish explained the process.

​“Over time, wireless coverage will be extended to additional areas, in conjunction with our overall network planning efforts and in coordination with each of the School’s academic plans,” Irish said.

According to Irish, Tufts got official funding for network maintenance that includes wireless installation two years ago, after submitting a three-year plan. By the end of fiscal year 2013, Tufts is expected to have campus-wide wireless Internet access on all three of its campuses.

Before 2009, the University was gradually bringing Wi-Fi to its campuses, but there was no official service, Irish said. It has taken some time to get this official wireless service introduced to campus service for a couple of reasons. First of all, Tufts is an older university and thus many of the buildings are also old and sturdy. Tufts bricks are built to withstand the weathering of hundreds of years, so when it comes to creating wireless access points, our buildings are not exactly ideal. Whereas a newer building or maybe a family residence might need only one wireless access point, Tufts buildings need more access points due to the thickness of their walls. Therefore it has taken substantial amounts of time and money to install the wireless system that exists at Tufts today.

Another reason for the slow spread of wireless across Tufts campuses seems to be behind everything these days: the economic recession. When the recession hit, Tufts President Larry Bacow took it upon himself to explain that the university’s priority was not getting campus-wide Wi-Fi. Funding for other areas was more important during a time of economic strain for the whole nation, he told Tufts audiences.

Soon after, however, the formal network maintenance plan was proposed. Since then Tufts has been working hard to become completely wireless. Students have been pushing for Wi-Fi in all buildings on campus, especially dorms. Tufts Community Union (TCU) President Sam Wallis has been determined in his campaign to get wireless Internet access for all Tufts students, and according to Irish, TCU has been integral in advocating for Wi-Fi over the past few years.

In addition to TCU, some faculty members have also been extremely supportive of wireless Internet. While some see wireless Internet in the classroom as a potential distraction for students, many faculty members at Tufts have enthusiastically incorporated wireless Internet techniques into their teachings.

Overall, the university is determined to follow through on their three-year plan, convinced that making Tufts an all-wireless campus will be a positive development.

“We felt,” Irish explains, “as [Tufts is] a research university, wireless was something to invest in,” said Irish. “It’s great for students working together on projects, researchers… staff are thrilled because it gives them more mobility.”

At the very least, once Tufts is wireless, message boards will be able to discuss something other than Internet at Tufts. This alone seems like a goal worth working towards.