Students who regularly use Wi-Fi on Troy’s main campus are familiar with the blocked-website message or applications running so slowly, they often don’t work at all.
Kayle Weeks, a junior graphic design major from Troy, has encountered many of these roadblocks.
“I am an artist, and I use a lot of references from the internet, so a lot of times I will Google search for a model, like the female figure or something, and I’m not trying to be pornographic or anything, and it will be blocked, which can really hinder me because I am trying to get work done for my classes,” Weeks said. “I understand why a lot of things for references are blocked because a lot of times it is nude people or maybe a little bit obscene. . .”
Weeks added she didn’t understand why there wasn’t an approval process to access certain necessary websites.
According to Greg Price, the chief technology and security officer at Troy, the only thing that is officially blocked is anything resembling child pornography. The university uses a service that the state of Alabama provides that attempts to identify if a web page contains child pornography, although it often makes mistakes, banning websites that may not actually be pornography.
Kalen Busby, a senior English secondary education major from Wetumpka, has had a similar experience with seemingly harmless web pages being blocked and apps running slowly.
“I was once looking at grad schools stuff and it blocked the entire page, which was just an ‘.edu’ (address) with different school websites,” Busby said. “I then have to email IT and get them to fix it so that I can finish my work.
“It’s just been really frustrating when I have been trying to do work on something for class or different research projects and then what I need is blocked, which can really slow down my work.”
Price said the slow connectivity is probably due to an “abundance” of legal issues the university must comply with in regard to bandwidth.
According to Dictionary.com, bandwidth is the capacity for data transfer of an electronic communications system. In layman’s terms, it generally refers to the volume of information that an internet connection can handle at one time.
A single user can have four or five devices connected to Troy’s network at a time, according to Herbert Reeves, the dean of student services.
“With the bandwidth we have got and the fact that the priority for that network is really for the academic role and for students to be able to do academic research and to complete their Blackboard work and other things, there is a reason some regulations were put on the amount of bandwidth and the number of devices,” Reeves said.
On any normal day on Troy’s main campus, there are approximately 45,000 devices connected to the networks, which can cause the networks to slow down, according to Price.
Price referenced the Higher Education Opportunity Act, a federal law passed in 2008, to explain some common obstacles.
“Through the act, the government made suggestions on how to clean up the networks, and one was you have to identify everyone using your network, so that’s why students at Troy have to log into the network in order to use the resources,” Price said.
Identifying who is on the network is a federal requirement, Price said, but it also serves students because it prohibits non-Troy resources from using up the network resources.
Price also said the legislation pushed regulations that would help avoid copyright infringement, something that was a big deal when websites like Napster, a music sharing website, were all the rage.
Netflix was recently blocked on the university’s administrative network due to the university’s need to protect copyrighted materials.
“The university doesn’t really have blocks in place so much as we have what we call ‘shuns,’ and on the administrative network. Netflix in particular is shunned for compliance with fed policy,” Price said.
“The big concern that we have is that Netflix would not give us an opinion in writing about whether or not individuals can use private Netflix accounts in the classrooms. So, what Troy chose to do because of a lack of clarity from a vendor is to block Netflix on the administrative networks only in order to avoid being fined for not following the copyright law.”
For students who have experienced a website they needed for class or for a research project being blocked, like Weeks and Busby, there is a way to fix it. Price said students or faculty can send a support ticket to the help desk and the network division can contact the state and advise against a legitimate site being been flagged as inappropriate, and ask it to unblock it.
According to Reeves, the university is looking to add additional bandwidth in the future, as well as to add a new IPTV (Internet Protocol Television)-type deal to the campus, allowing the university to move away from basic cable.