SNS and the Fair Usage Policy: Papering Over The Cracks?

On the 1st of April, 2018, the Student Network Services (SNS) implemented a Fair Usage Policy, in which all students using the on-campus accommodation WiFi network were given a 10GB daily WiFi quota. Exceeding the quota would result in the reduction of the Internet speed from 10Mbps to a mere 2Mbps, until the renewal of the quota. According to the SNS, a small portion of WiFi users take up a large portion of the bandwidth, and the implementation of the policy is a means to “overcome this biasness”. However, is the Fair Usage Policy truly a feasible solution to the poor Internet service that UNMC students have been facing for the longest time?

Enter Confession #C6360.

Remember Confession #C6360 on the UNMC Confessions 2017/2018 Facebook page? Or rather, THAT Confessions page post about the SNS?

#C6360Hello, I would like to spread awareness about the internet usage in UNMC hostel. Sorry for the long post!1. I…

Posted by UNMC Confessions 2017/2018 on Thursday, March 29, 2018

The post above had garnered a significant amount of attention, having brought to light the problems affecting the on-campus accommodation WiFi network. The author of the post, Lee Jae Hoon, highlighted the major issues with the WiFi network, as well as recounted his efforts in trying to obtain enough information regarding the situation.

In the post, Jae Hoon mentions terms such as bandwidth and throttling. While bandwidth may be a term that many of us are familiar with, the concept of throttling might be completely foreign, to the uninitiated. What do these terms actually mean?

Understanding the Jargon

How does bandwidth affect Internet speed? (Source: ITS Networks)

Bandwidth refers to the amount of information that can be transmitted through a medium within a given amount of time. It is usually measured in bits per second. Therefore, a bandwidth of 10Mbps (sound familiar?) refers to an information transfer rate of 10 million bits per second.

The amount of bandwidth that you would need would depend on what you plan on doing with all that Internet connection that you’d have. In other words, if you only use the Internet to scroll through social media (and read IGNITE articles!), you wouldn’t require a high bandwidth for all your Internet activities. However, if you’re someone who spends their time binge-watching shows on Netflix, you’d be better off with a higher bandwidth.

How does bandwidth affect your Internet speed, then? Well, think of the whole thing as a plumbing system that you might have at home. Your bandwidth is the diameter of the pipes, and the information that’s transmitted through is akin to water that flows in your pipes. The larger the diameter, the higher the volume of water that is able to flow through at any given moment.

Bandwidth throttling, on the other hand, is the intentional slowing down (or speeding up) of Internet service by an Internet service provider (ISP). One of the main reasons ISPs carry out throttling is to reduce the risk of bandwidth congestion.

Addressing the Problem at Hand

As mentioned by Jae Hoon in his post, SNS have acknowledged that the current bandwidth of 700Mbps is far from enough to accommodate every student in a residential hall. Going back to the plumbing system, imagine if all the taps at home were turned on. You’d notice that there would be a significant reduction in the water pressure of an individual faucet. This is analogous to the effect of bandwidth congestion on Internet service performance. Every student using the Internet service at the same time causes a strain on the bandwidth capacity, ultimately resulting in a reduced Internet service speed.

The addition of access points has failed to alleviate the problem, too. This is because the issue lies in the inadequate bandwidth capacity, and not a poor signal strength. Remember the plumbing analogy? Let’s apply it here as well! In this case, the idea of adding access points to combat the current problems would be similar to adding more pipes in order to increase water pressure.

Does the SNS Have a Contingency Plan?

The truth is, we don’t know. Jae Hoon has sent a couple of emails to the Provost, Graham Kendall, as well Nicholas Ching, the Director of On-Campus Services. However, he has yet to receive a reply from either of them. In his emails, he suggests implementing a premium service, in which interested students can pay an extra amount of money in order to receive optimised Internet service. Jae Hoon says,

Both emails did not receive any response from either of them. However, as for the 1st email at the start of the academic year, their response was to send someone from SNS to talk to me.

A screenshot of Jae Hoon’s email to Graham Kendall and Nicholas Ching that was sent at the beginning of this semester.

The Fair Usage Policy has been met with a fair amount of opposition from UNMC students, as it will not solve the current problems that the students face with the Internet service. The management’s reluctance to tackle this problem head on, as well as their radio silence towards Jae Hoon’s emails is rather disappointing.

Hopefully, the fact that UNMC students are now not afraid to voice out their concerns will spur the University into taking proper action, and implementing measures that would actually work.


By Lee Jae Hoon & Saran Anandan

Featured image obtained from Wikimedia Commons

Curiosity doesn't always kill the cat.

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