Students with laptops and tablets may soon join the slackliners and Frisbee players that occupy the Bald Spot if a Carleton Student Association proposal for outdoor WiFi moves forward.
Currently, the cost estimate for this project is between $15,000 and $20,000 and would come from the Information Technology Services budget, which includes money for extension of campus wifi networks.
“I thought that it would be nice to have wifi on the Bald Spot,” said Senator Matt Cotter ’15. “ITS is totally willing to work with students and willing to use its budget for green-space wifi, it just doesn’t have direct contact with students, so it doesn’t always know what students’ interests are. That’s where the CSA comes in.”
Cotter leads the CSA subcommittee for green-space wifi. The group has researched the level of student interest in the project and the logistics of installing wifi outdoors. If a majority of students support the proposal and it is deemed feasible, the CSA will make a resolution.
“It is unlikely that this will happen in the fall term, but it is likely that it could happen by the spring,” said CSA President Matt Fitzgerald ’14.
To ascertain if student interest exists, the CSA might conduct a campus survey, according to Cotter. In addition, CSA questions students during office hours, which are held weekly in Sayles. According to Fitzgerald, office hours responses have been 10 to 1 in favor of the proposal.
At ITS, Chief Technology Officer Janet Scannell is creating focus groups, which are representative samples of Carleton students. These students will be asked questions about ITS services, including how they would prioritize wifi on green spaces compared to other technology projects.
“These focus groups will give us a sense of which services students value the most,” she said.
In winter term, ITS will host a town-hall style meeting and will conduct a MISO survey, a national questionnaire about technology for higher education. “MISO will also allow us to look across lots of groups to see what students use, the importance of various services, and if people are satisfied with specific services.”
According to Network Manager Chris Dlugosz ’92, “Part of what we need to know is where students would like services and how much they would use the services. If students would like us to make more of an effort to provide more outdoor wifi, we would try to make that available.”
Antennae on nearby buildings are needed to add wifi to Bell Hill and the mini Bald Spot. Because several buildings have a line of sight to these green spaces, the service would be good and relatively inexpensive, according to Dlugosz.
However, because trees line the periphery of the Bald Spot, there is no building that has a line of sight to the area. Therefore, a six-foot tall permanent structure is needed inside the trees.
“Realistically, we don’t think there is a way to put wifi on the Bald Spot without a permanent structure,” Dlugosz said. “There are many departments on campus that are involved with maintaining the aesthetics of the campus, which is why there are currently no permanent structures on the Bald Spot.”
This structure would need to include electricity, an enclosure for all weather, heaters, fans, and power for radios. The cost for this structure ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 and depends on factors such as the location of potential electrical sources.
A simpler solution would be to extend the campus fiberoptics network to the Bald Spot, which is an option that Facilities is exploring, according to Dlugosz.
Currently, Carleton temporarily extends the network for cameras during commencement by using Olin’s hardwiring. The commencement committee wants to make this wiring permanent, by running fiberoptics from a nearby building to the Bald Spot underground, according to Dlugosz. This poses a problem because it is difficult to dig up the Bald Spot when classes are in session.
“If Facilities decides that it is okay to extend the fiberoptics network, it would make sense to include wifi with this extension,” Dlugosz said.
Another issue ITS tackles is the price of adding wifi to green spaces.
“Outdoor wifi is significantly more expensive than indoor wifi, and the weather makes it so we can only be outside for a short period of the year,” he said.
Further, Carleton has 500 indoor wifi routers and would need 300 more before there is full indoor coverage.
The ITS focus groups and CSA surveys will determine whether indoor or outdoor wifi is a student priority. From there, ITS will decide how to proceed.
“If outdoor wifi were desired by all people on campus, we would support it,” Dlugosz said.
Similarly, Cotter said, “If every student wants it, it could happen. Demonstrated student interest has changed a lot at Carleton.”