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A plan that students hope would make cable in every undergraduate dorm an achievable goal is still far from reality, the head of Harvard Arts and Sciences Computer Services (HASCS) says, as issues of cost, priority and technological feasibility remain unresolved.
An Undergraduate Council-backed proposal to send digital cable television over Harvard’s existing Ethernet infrastructure will be presented to the College’s Committee on House Life (CHL) tomorrow.
Last year, the CHL determined that wiring for standard cable would be too costly, dashing students’ hopes of watching “SportsCenter” and “The Sopranos” from the comfort of their rooms.
This year, council member Wesley H. Kauble ’06 is promoting the new plan for cable—which avoids costly construction and new wiring—and he said brings the goal finally within reach.
Kauble and others said that a successful implementation of Ethernet television at Northwestern University is guiding their efforts.
According to HASCS Director Franklin M. Steen, however, the proposal is not a simple one.
“There is a lot of work to be done before we get there, a lot of hurdles that need to be conquered,” Steen said.
There is no way to know whether the plan is feasible, he said, because no testing has begun.
Steen said he has concerns about how an Ethernet television system would effect network bandwidth use.
While this worry hasn’t stopped Northwestern, Steen said that Harvard’s network is configured differently and that Northwestern’s success can’t be necessarily replicated here.
“We are a little different [than Northwestern]—we don’t have uniform set-up, and Northwestern is somewhat smaller then Harvard,” Steen said.
And the required testing can’t be done until deans and House masters agree to support it.
“There is no sense in us doing any testing or preparation until we know this is going to be funded, and it goes through what ever political things that need to be done,” Steen said.
Some masters have already stated opposition to cable in students’ rooms.
“I’m not in favor of them having it in their rooms because I think it’s too great a temptation,” Adams House Master Sean Palfrey said last year.
“There are so many ‘what ifs’ that I don’t even want to take any action to divert people from their work until we know that this is a possibility, and we’re not even there yet,” Steen said.
And the cost is such that it would require a significant re-prioritization of computing service resources.
“This will take a major investment up front, and it’s a matter of priorities and how money will be spent,” Steen said.
According to Steen, Northwestern raised room rates for every student by $120 a year to defray costs of setting up the cable system.
A Northwestern-like plan would cost Harvard about $2 million over four years without improving existing infrastructure. That cost has to be weighed against that of a full re-wiring, which would improve data transfer speeds across the board.
“We just had this enormous increase [in tuition], and one of the issues is, would Harvard raise the dorm rate,” Steen said.
But Kauble said the benefit to students would be worth the room rate increase.
“I can assure you that the cost of cable to students through this system will be far less than the typical monthly charge of any cable provider,” Kauble wrote in an e-mail.
And Kauble said he hopes that tomorrow’s meeting will be the first step toward resolving the issue of testing.
“If the Committee on House Life approves the proposal, and agrees with the position of the Undergraduate Council, testing the system in the coming weeks would be the next step,” Kauble said.
“An opportunity for the administration to improve the quality of life of Harvard undergraduates has arisen,” he said. “It is my hope that they will seize the opportunity and make this proposal a reality.”
—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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