Bandwidth demand straining college budgets

Twenty-seven percent of institutions said they capped the number of devices a student can connect to the campus network at five.

Half of college IT departments pay for broadband internet service in campus residential areas and don’t recover the costs, while six in 10 students said they would consider moving to off-campus housing if web speeds lagged.

New statistics showing how spiking broadband demand has impacted campus IT departments were included in an infographic created by, a site that tracks technology use in education.

Half of campuses included in a survey said the money spent on satiating students’ broadband needs for their laptops, smart phones, tablet computers, and video game consoles is never recovered through tuition or student fees.

But even that financial sacrifice hasn’t satisfied students bringing upwards of five web-connected devices to campus every semester. Nearly three in four college students said wireless internet coverage is still a “significant issue” on campuses.

Despite the proliferation of broadband web access, colleges and universities are still restricting how much bandwidth students can consume in a day, week, or month. Three in 10 schools included in the OnlineColleges infographic said they did not offer unlimited bandwidth to students.

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Twenty-seven percent of institutions said they capped the number of devices a student can connect to the campus network at five. One in five campuses limit bandwidth consumed by smart phones and tablets.

Nine in 10 IT decision makers who responded to a March ACUTA survey of 249 U.S. campuses said tablets were likely to consume the most bandwidth in coming years. This has prompted 19 percent of schools in the ACUTA survey to impose restrictions on the number of mobile devices a single student can connect to the campus’s network.

“There is an expectation right now among students of, ‘Any device, any time, as much as we want,’” said Joe Harrington, ACUTA president and director of network services at Boston College (BC). “This has [IT officials] back on their heels a little bit, looking for ways to deal with this proactively rather than reactively.”

Instituting strict limitations on how much broadband a student can consume has brought significant savings to some schools in recent years. The University of Washington first put the brakes on students’ bandwidth usage in 2002, when the school saved more than $1 million by instituting the rules.

Only a sliver of colleges provide students with ultra-high speed networks of more than two gigabits per second. Seven percent of schools reported those high speeds, while 30 percent said their networks provided 100-500 megabits per second. Twenty-nine percent said their networks ran at 1-100 megabits per second.

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