Study looks at cost to police campus networks

Some colleges and universities might have to spend up to half a million dollars to comply with new federal rules aimed at controlling illegal peer-to-peer file sharing on campuses, according to a study by the Campus Computing Project.

The regulations were included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 and passed by Congress in July. The law asks colleges and universities to implement network administration technologies that deter illegal peer-to-peer file sharing. These technologies can include bandwidth shaping, traffic monitoring to identify the largest bandwidth users, or products designed to reduce or block illegal file sharing, according to the legislation. The law allows each institution to determine its own policy and use the corresponding technology (see "Congress: Schools must clamp down on file sharing")

 "The costs [will] vary dramatically depending on the college," said Kenneth C. Green, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, a continuing study of the role of information technology at American colleges and universities.

He noted that the law applies to all of America’s postsecondary institutions that participate in Title IV financial aid programs—about 4,400 public, private, and for-profit degree-granting institutions, as well as another 1,700 career colleges and other non-degree-granting institutions.

To meet the law’s regulations, higher-education institutions will have to purchase hardware or software to stem file sharing, if they don’t already use such technologies. There are also other costs related to time spent by school administration, legal counsel, IT personnel, and student affairs personnel, Green said.

As of fall 2007, about 90 percent of the nation’s four-year colleges and universities, and nearly two-thirds of its community colleges, had some type of policy to address illegal P2P file sharing. But fewer than 40 percent of all higher-education institutions had installed a technology-based solution to stem P2P piracy as of that time, according to the study.

Green’s organization says colleges and universities incurred a wide range of costs in combating P2P file sharing last year. These costs ranged from just under $6,000 in software licensing fees by public bachelor’s institutions to more than $158,000 for special hardware by private universities.

Higher-education institutions also have established mandatory user education programs or penalized students for sharing files illegally, by giving them sanctions or financial penalties—or even taking away their network access.

For example, Green said, Cornell University requires students to complete a mandatory online tutorial before they gain access to the school’s network.

"There’s nothing like that in [place] for consumer networks. They turn it on and say, ‘Go ahead and have fun,’" he said, noting that colleges and universities have been very proactive in trying to stem online piracy.

The stipulations come after years of lobbying by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, which originally stated that college students account for nearly half of all pirated music and movies.

"In 2005, the RIAA said 44 percent of their [financial] losses were due to college students in the U.S.," Green said. However, earlier this year the RIAA issued a news release acknowledging that students accounted for only about 15 percent of losses.

Green said that while there was a lot of illegal file sharing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the vast majority of schools now have policies to address illegal or inappropriate peer-to-peer file sharing.

"It’s a consumer issue, not a campus issue," he said, adding: "The industry’s swiftboating efforts are asking higher education to pay" to control a small percentage of illegal file sharing.


Campus Computing Project

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