BTV: Meet the Team Fueling your Internet Habits

By Hye-Jin Kim

It has been said: “Home is where the wifi connects automatically.”  Yes, while it’s convenient being able to speed google French conjugations en route to an in-class exam, I wouldn’t describe the middle of Battell Beach as “home.”

But the ubiquitous (and free) campus wi-fi is arguably one of the more under-appreciated college perks.

Students rave about the unlimited meal plan and 4:00 Proc all the time. But when the dining halls close at 8 P.M. (and when you can no longer procrastinate by eating copious amounts of soft-serve), there is no feeling more glorious than curling up in bed and watching the black screen glow red: Netflix.

According to Billy Sneed, the Internet Technology Services (ITS) Manager for Central Systems and Network Services, internet usage peaks at 1.2 GB per second each evening. Not surprisingly, usage decreases on Friday and Saturday, and peaks again by Sunday afternoon. In order to protect against a network outage (can you imagine… it would be near apocalyptic for all the Type-A personalities on this campus), the College relies on two different internet service providers, Level3 and FirstLight.

The total annual cost to provide optical-fiber internet for the Vermont campus, including Bread Loaf, is about $250,000.

Although Sneed noted this was more costly than contracting with a single provider, he said, “But how much is it going to cost if it goes out?”

Other challenges unique to maintaining an internet network in rural Vermont is the diverse and mountainous terrain where the optical fibers must be installed, according to Jim Stuart, the Associate VP for ITS. The lack of quality providers in the region that can meet the College’s huge bandwidth requirements are also limiting, added Chris Norris, ITS Director of Security and Infrastructure.

There are currently 400 network access points (router-like devices) on campus. Balancing this with the number of banned personal routers is troublesome. “The presence of additional access points deployed by personally owned wi-fi routers could cause interference and disrupt services for everyone,” said Stuart, noting that each access point has to operate on a unique airwave frequency for optimal performance.

The decision to eliminate “Midd_unplugged” and switch to “MiddleburyCollege” that requires users to log-in using their College account raised concerns about privacy last spring. Should students streaming movies illegally be worried? What about accessing the “darknet,” an anonymous isolated network often used for black market transactions?

“We don’t snoop on an individual’s network activity,” assured Norris. According the Student Handbook, logs are only accessed to aid on-going investigations, to fulfill a subpoena, or address a notice for copyright infringement sent to the College by a third-party, such as Sony Entertainment.

According to Stuart, “Midd_Unplugged” was dropped to increase overall network security rather than to monitor student usage.

“People were leveraging wireless as their primary mode of communication. More business activities were taking place over the wireless network than has in the past,” said Stuart. “It became that much more critical that we secure the wireless network.”

From its start as a single coax cable running old-school Ethernet from Voter to Warner Hall in the late 1980s, it is evident that the College’s network has improved and evolved dramatically to keep up with the ever-increasing demand of students and professors. So whether you’re streaming “Masters of None” or researching a paper for your class on “Cultural Appropriation of Model Minorities,” don’t forget to send a quick thanks to the College’s hard-working ITS team.