Saying No to a Free Lunch

The College should explain its mysterious objections to a free cable plan for all students

Harvard stands out in many ways, even from other elite institutions. At least one of these distinctions, however, does not confer upon its students any bragging rights: Harvard is the only Ivy League school not to provide students with cable in their rooms.

Observing this deficiency, Nicholas Castine ’09 thought he would be doing everyone a favor when he proposed Crimson Cable, a plan to offer Harvard students five to six times as many television stations as are available at either Yale or Princeton, but at a lower price. This was not the first time someone had proposed providing cable in dorm rooms. But while other proposals had been extremely costly, Castine’s plan would cost the College comparatively little.

Castine’s idea was to run the cable signals through House power lines, a plan that the project’s team of California engineers says should theoretically work as well in a skyscraper as in Lowell House. The only thing Castine required from the College to make his plan a reality was space in the House basements to store an estimated 50 to 60 cable boxes, each of which is roughly the size of a DVD player. Castine even volunteered to run the operation himself and to supply the estimated $300,000 needed to finance the project through loans, so that it would cost the university virtually nothing.

Nevertheless, though he spent a year on Crimson Cable, Castine hasn’t even been allowed to test his plan. Instead, the College has asked for countless revisions to his original plan, serially adding objections as the previous ones were addressed.

Most recently, in an August meeting—postponed since May—with Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd, an independent consultant that the College had hired informed Castine and UC Vice President Matt L. Sundquist ’09 of new concerns, including picture quality and the need to cool equipment rooms. Though she has refused to provide any detail in writing, either for The Crimson or Castine, Kidd, who declined to comment for this editorial, previously told a Crimson reporter that she “consider[s] the conversation about cable TV to be closed” since the College “followed a good process.”

As perturbed as we are about Kidd’s cryptic comments and the administration’s general lack of transparency on the issue, we are more concerned that, to all appearances, the College never really intended to go through with the project in the first place. After clearly seeing the amount of work that Castine was willing to put in to solve the technical issues involved, Kidd and the administration stonewalled and delayed, putting up hurdle after hurdle until it was convenient to nix the entire project. If there were truly insurmountable obstacles, why not detail them publicly?

We suppose it’s possible that the College would prefer to wait until it renovates the Houses to wire cable into each room But that’s a long-term alternative; it could be ten or fifteen years before any students have cable in their rooms. Furthermore, we see no reason why such an explanation could not be given publicly.

Despite Kidd’s assertion that “the College is not going to re-entertain this question,” we hope that the UC and Castine will continue to campaign for Crimson Cable, perhaps appealing to the higher-ups in University Hall. At the very least, Castine, the UC, as well as the Harvard student body at large, deserve a detailed explanation as to why a project that seems to promise so much for students at so little cost to the College was summarily scrapped.