The March Towards Cable

Unlike nearly every other elite university in U.S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges 2004,” Harvard does not offer what has become a basic amenity for most college students: cable television. In fact, of the top 15 schools in the nation, according to U.S. News, the University of Chicago (certainly the social pride of the Windy City) is the only other institution that does not offer cable to its students. And Harvard is the only school in the Ivy League that does not include cable in its room and board package.

Many members of the Harvard administration have argued that putting cable in the dormitories will only take away from the academic experience, with students finding more time for MTV and less time for Moral Reasoning. But for some reason, the other seven of the Ancient Eight have somehow found a way to persevere through the burden of cable television, and continue to succeed academically. With the advent of new technology, the possibilities for gaining access to cable have become much stronger. And this can happen much sooner than many would think. I urge the administration to make a firm commitment to implementing cable television by fall 2004. While seemingly ambitious, this time frame would be an easily attainable target, if only administrators would make the cable initiative a top priority.

The proposal for cable that is currently making its way through the Harvard bureaucracy has faced some resistance on three key points. Those who are opposed to cable keep bringing up the fallacious argument that the cost of renovating the houses would be prohibitively high, with rewiring costs rising into the millions; they also contend that time table for such massive changes would last well over a decade. But these critics ignore the fact that new technology is available that will virtually eliminate both of these problems—the current proposal is for broadcasting over existing Ethernet lines, not rewiring, which is ideal for Harvard due to our high-capacity Ethernet network. With an Ethernet connection already in every student’s room, “Sex and The City” and “The Sopranos” can be piped to our desktops at a fraction of the cost of traditional installation.

Two years ago Northwestern University was also plagued by old buildings and insurmountable cable installation costs; but their administration found a creative solution. Partnering with a local technology company, VideoFurnace, Northwestern launched their own “Cable via the Ethernet” network. This term marks the one-year anniversary of their experiment, and it has worked with astonishing results. After starting with only 20 channels in 2002, Northwestern is now looking to expand its programming to include services such as HBO and Pay-Per-View. There is no reason that Harvard cannot follow suit.

The only other concern brought forth is the misguided belief that cable broadcasting in individual dorm rooms will detract from the substantial sense of community that the House system brings to Harvard. But judging from the other “quality entertainment” that Harvard students engage in each weekend, it does not seem that a little cable programming will hurt. On the contrary, it could actually enhance the House system by allowing every dorm room to become a center for gathering. Cable can help every room become a common room—and without having to barter for your favorite show. By putting cable broadcasting on every computer, Harvard will allow students to enjoy another form of entertainment in the comfort of their rooms—a form of entertainment that we have been lacking for far too long.

It has always been the nature of Harvard to overachieve, so let’s do it one more time. Rather than settle for a tie with Princeton atop the U.S. News rankings, Harvard needs to stand alone as the only number one school in the nation. By providing students with access to networks such as CNN and C-SPAN, the academic prowess of our school can be further enhanced.

Cable television has become a necessary amenity for college students nationwide. Whether it be “SportsCenter,” “Crossfire” or “Newlyweds” (my roommate’s favorite), it is time for students to be able to enjoy quality cable programming—like the rest of the Ivy League.

—Wes H. Kauble ’06 is a government concentrator in Cabot House. He represented the South Yard on the Undergraduate Council in 2002-2003.