University housing units' Internet, TV service switched to single provider

Residents of the Southern Oregon University family housing units received an email the last week of July telling them to cancel their personal Internet and cable service providers, as the school would be installing a unified network to all units. The SOU Housing department informed residents that the wireless server they are receiving will be different than the service that covers the rest of the campus, which has a reputation for dropping coverage as students move from building to building.

As of the first full week of August, installation was almost complete on the 165 units that range from studio apartments to three bedroom town homes. Completion of work was expected by Friday, Aug. 7.

While some of the students will be able to access cable television who might not have had it before, a number of residents are upset about the unified cable provider. Matthew Krause, a resident of the family housing units, wrote an open letter to the housing department expressing his concerns about being forced to use the new Internet server. His concerns included what he said was a lack of privacy between computers in the shared network and administrators being able to monitor all activity.

Currently, the SOU IT department does track some Internet activity as students' Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (which identifies their computer) can be banned from the network if the campus tech team suspects them of illegally pirating or "torrenting" content. (This paragraph has been updated to correct that it is the IP address, not the email address, that can be banned.)

Privacy aside, Krause’s  letter went on to say he's locked into an Internet provider agreement that will charge him a fee to break his contract. Krause claimed that an anonymous source said that those living in the complex should expect monthly rent to increase $50 to $100 after the provider is live, in order to cover the Internet and cable services. This estimated price increase for the new service isn’t atypical when compared to similar bundle packages, but it could be a lot more than the typical college student needs.

Providers like AT&T and Charter Media offer low rates solely for high speed Internet that students might find ideal.

House phones are incredibly rare in student homes and cable TV has become less popular as streaming services like Netflix are convenient for anytime viewing schedules while charging flat monthly rates.

SOU Professor Andrew Gay, who lives in the family housing, isn’t opposed to the switch, but is concerned about reliability of the new provider. For the price of $55 per month, Gay and his family receives 30 mbps from Ashland Home Net.

“We watch a lot of streaming videos from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, so the speed is important to us,” he said. AHN has a high customer approval rating, thanks in part to their services, including after-hours and weekend tech support. That's an amenity Gay finds important and wants SOU to provide after the transition.

Service from satellite television provider DirectTV will also be new in the professor's household after the installation is complete, but Gay hopes the package won’t cost more than what his rent and AHN currently total.

“I just hope I don’t pay more in rent for something I wouldn’t have chosen for myself,” he said.

In a letter from the housing department that went out July 27, residents were informed of installation dates and some rules following the new transition. The department explained a few of the technical logistics, including device compatibleity and how not every unit would need to be entered for installation. Also, the letter apologized that everything wouldn’t be live and working until Friday, Aug. 7. The email reads, “We understand that this a week after we had anticipated and as a token of our appreciation for your patience and understanding, a $50 credit will be put towards your August rent. We understand that this does not fix the delay, but hope that it does help with the inconvenience.”

Krause’s concerns of pricing and privacy were also copied over to a flyer which was posted around the housing complex. The notice included the contact information for many of the housing department staff and was a call to action for residents to speak out against the lack of choice regarding a network provider.

Ashland freelance writer Eli Stillman is editor-in-chief of The Siskiyou, the student-produced Southern Oregon University newspaper.

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