Upgraded WiFi: Winter 2013

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By Thomas Scott

In an email dispersed on Monday, ITS’s Chief Information Officer Ellen Yu Borkowski informed Union’s student body that the Residence Hall Computer Network or ResNet was to be upgraded over winter break. According to the email, funds had been allocated ‘to upgrade both the [w]ired and [w]ireless networks in all the residence halls.’

The improvements will entail better ‘wired and wireless service’ as well as ‘full network coverage… in your rooms’ and the ability ‘to connect up to three devices simultaneously, each with a dedicated five Mbps…connection.’ Under the status quo, students have a one Mbps connection according to the email. Moreover, current ResNet policy, found on ITS’s policies and forms page, only makes provisions for ‘one computer… registered to each individual.’

Borkowski commented ‘[the] main issues that will be addressed’ with the network enhancement are ‘speed’ and ‘coverage.’ Before securing the upgrade, ITS’s services only reached ‘the common areas in the residence halls.’ That being said, ITS has ‘in the past… attempted to place wireless access points strategically’ said Borkowski. Despite attempts to optimize wireless reception, coverage ‘was never guaranteed… in’ individual dorm rooms. The goal of the retrofit ‘is [to] provide full coverage, which means’ that wireless signals are  ‘not going to be spotty in’ residence halls. According to Borkowski, connectivity is ‘guaranteed to be in your room along with all the common areas and the hallways.”

In order to expedite the upgrade, ITS turned to Apogee Advanced ResNet Services, a contractor based in Austin, Texas. After winter break, ‘the full wired and wireless environment will be handled by the vendor’ claimed Borkowski. ITS ‘went with [Apogee] because… all they do is outsource Residential Networks,’ a function they ‘do… really well’ since the company’s ‘pricing is reasonable,’ Borkowski asserted. Apogee’s services are expected to cost up to $350,000 a year. However, ITS ‘can… get a lot more for the same amount of money from [Apogee].” The contractor has also ‘been patient’ throughout process of acquiring funds. Borkowski remarks that she has ‘been pleased with the partnership.”

Another aspect of the vendor’s relationship with the college is the company’s compliance with the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. The legislation ‘requires providers to engineer their systems to make wiretapping easier and less expensive for the government,’ according to Apogee’s CALEA documentation. Instead of ‘monitor[ing] the activity and accounts of individual users of College computing resources’ as predicated by Union’s Acceptable Use policy for Computing and Network Resources, the college could instead defer to ‘Apogee’s Secure Intercept Services’ regarding violations in residence halls, which the contractor’s CALEA page claims ‘provides a complete compliance solution for… interception’ that is ‘a cost-effective alternative to in-house deployment.’ Apogee has a streamlined process for cooperation with law enforcement, denoted by 4 steps. The process lets the authorities ‘[a]ccess the intercepted data,’ then'[a]dminister the intercept’ and ‘[c]onvert the intercepted data’ and afterward ‘[s]ecurely deliver intercepted data to [law enforcement] systems.’

Whereas the current Bradford network software assigns an identity and physical location to devices on the network, an improved CALEA compliance solution would permit the college and authorities to better track down and take action against those breaking Federal and State laws.

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