CPO1414

PO Box 7001
Longview, TX 75602
11 Feb. 2008
Mr. Gary Holeman
Senior Director of Information Technology
LeTourneau University
2100 S. Mobberly Ave
Longview, TX 75602
Mr. Holeman:
I am writing to inform you of some concerns I and many other students have about our
network at LeTourneau. As you may be aware, Information Technology has specific
network policies in key areas that significantly hinder or eliminate legitimate use of
LeTourneau's network. I understand that these policies were implemented with the
intention of keeping the network running smoothly for all students and faculty, but the
specific policies in place go too far, restricting legitimate use and the innovation and
ingenuity of our students.
First and foremost, Information Technology restricts bandwidth usage to 5GB/month,
because (according to Information Technology's website) it is a "limited campus resource".
I agree with this assessment and understand that bandwidth is an important resource that
we need to work to conserve. However, LeTourneau and other universities, as well as
consumers, purchase not a set amount of total transfer per month, but a set amount of
transfer in a second. To put this in layman's terms, a typical car cannot go above
80-90mph. This is well accepted and understood throughout the car industry. What would
not be accepted or understood is selling cars that are artificially restricted to traveling 200
miles a month, in addition to the 80-90mph limit imposed by the actual mechanics of the
vehicle.
Significantly increasing bandwidth to students is neither infeasible nor economically
inadvisable. On the contrary, a 40mbit connection is capable of providing 5GB of bandwidth
per month to approximately 2500 users. Information Technology planned to purchase such
a 40mbit line three years ago, and no later information is available from Information
Technology website; I assume costs have continued to decline and we have purchased more
and larger lines since then. Why then are we are effectively asking students to pay
three-year-old prices for three-year-old technology?
Information Technology states on its website that the
prices for increased bandwidth "are consistent with those used by local broadband internet providers."
This is simply incorrect. As stated above, consumers rarely pay for bandwidth in terms of
gigabytes per month; they pay in kilobits or megabits per second. For instance, AT&T offers
DSL access to those in the Longview area for $14.99 per month, guaranteeing a total
throughput of 768kbps. At this download speed, someone subscribing to AT&T's service
could download over 237GB in a month. Someone paying $15 a month to Information
Technology would only be able to download 10GB in that same month. Information
Technology is providing, in effect, a service that is only 4% of the quality of
competing internet companies for the same price. On Information Technology's
website, it indicates that you have "researched the policies of other colleges and
universities, as well as internet service providers, to determine the general trends. [You]
selected 5GB per month as... a good representation of what other schools are providing..."
I have also researched policies of competing universities and internet service providers, and
you will find the results of my research attached. LeTourneau provides the smallest amount
of bandwidth of any university I could find, with the next-lowest offering four times as
much bandwidth. This is a clear failing of Objective 2 of "VI. Network Infrastructure", from
the IT Master Plan, which identifies that "it is important for the university to supply the
bandwidth necessary... which enables performance at a comparable level to other
institutions of higher education."
Of course, I and other students take issue with more than just a lack of adequate
bandwidth. Several students including myself depend on an important service called VPN in
order to work for companies worldwide while attending LeTourneau. VPN connections
typically work with any network connection without interference or requiring cooperation on
the part of the service provider. Unfortunately, due to some accidental or purposeful
configuration of Information Technology's equipment, many VPN connections, including my
own, do not function. I have opened a work order for this issue (work order #22793) but
was informed that VPN violated the policies of Information Technology and are thus not
permitted. VPN is a critical function of my employment, and thus my continued attendance
at LeTourneau University, and therefore I have been forced to pay a separate, off-campus
internet service provider in order to regain this important functionality that is accessible by
default on all consumer internet connections.
In addition to restricting bandwidth usage, Information Technology also employs a
technology commonly called 'packet shaping' to reduce overall bandwidth costs. In theory,
this means that some network traffic is given a higher priority than other network traffic. In
practice, this means that many websites cease to function, both for academic or recreational
use. This includes sites like YouTube which is used both for recreational and educational
purposes, and protocols like BitTorrent, which can be used to distribute illegal software but
are more often used to transfer legal data such as the Linux operating system, an important
tool for students who wish to learn more about computers and writing computer software.
While I understand the desire of Information Technology to protect itself from illegitimate
use, the overwhelming legitimate use that is destroyed by these policies do much more
harm than good. The type of usage I have described is enabled by default on all internet
connections typical consumers would purchase, and their restriction here is without merit.
Information Technology also has policies in place preventing students from running web
servers and similar services on campus. This takes the form of both a written policy
forbidding such use as well as subnets that restrict network communication between
computer labs and residence halls. I understand that there are legitimate security reasons
for subdividing LeTourneau's network thusly, but I am also aware that web servers and their
configuration are a key and important component of any educational program involving
computers. LeTourneau University offers several courses that teach students how to
operate and run their own web servers, and such restriction is without merit. No doubt this
policy was intended to cut down on illegal servers run by students (for instance, those
providing file-sharing services for copyrighted material). However, as I am sure you are
aware, such servers continue to be operated by students in spite of these regulations. If
guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns, and if servers are outlawed, only outlaws
will have servers. Instead of preventing such unlawful activity, Information Technology's
policies have ensured that only unlawful servers will be created and operated, as any
students interested in setting up a server for legal recreational or research use would risk
possible disciplinary action.
Similarly, Information Technology has policies in place expressly forbidding the connection
of 'routers' or 'hubs' to its network, preventing more than one computer to be plugged into
each rooms' LAN ports. Many computer science students, such as myself, must stay current
on multiple operating systems (for instance, Windows, Linux, and Mac OS) in order to be
competitive in today's marketplace, and therefore, owning more than one computer without
wireless connectivity becomes difficult within current network policy. I have been informed
that this policy was originally put in place to prevent disruption to the network; however,
modern routers do not pose any threat to network disruption. In fact, these devices could
provide an acceptable alternative to the 'subnets' that are currently in place. As you may
be aware, routers have a feature called NAT Translation which effectively stop worms and
viruses in their tracks. The security boon this would present to residence halls and
dormitories would be tremendous, and as they are user-configurable, they would not be
subject to the the problems with subnets cited above. Restrictions against such devices are
not in place in any consumer internet service and are without merit.
As I hinted above, these many concerns have forced me to purchase an outside internet
connection. At the moment I pay $20/month for an internet connection through Cingular
Wireless' 3G service. My VPN connections work; I am able to run web services; I can
connect as many computers as I would like; I have unlimited bandwidth; and many
websites (particularly those that are 'packet shaped') operate faster than they do through
LeTourneau's network. Of course, configuring such a connection requires technical
knowledge and is beyond the motivation of the typical LeTourneau student. Yet, as costs
continue to decline (due to the recent deregulation of the 700mhz band and other factors), I
cannot help but guess that if these issues are not addressed, more and more students will
go elsewhere for their internet services. And 'elsewhere' is a place with no decency
filtering, which could spell trouble for our continued success as a university and as a
community.
I realize that many of these issues I have raised run contrary to the way things have been
done for the past few years here at LeTourneau University. But I am also aware that many
students have voiced the same or similar concerns, and that these concerns have largely
fallen on deaf ears. I respectfully request that our collective voices be heard on these and
other issues involving information technology. I ask that you prayerfully consider making
changes to network policy and I look forward to discussion and collaboration to address
these important concerns.
Sincerely yours,
Drew Crawford
Enclosures: Signatures, Bandwidth Comparison Chart, Summary
CC: Dr. Dale Lundsford, Mr. Peter Blosser, Mr. Ethan Cooper, Mr. Ken Johnson, Mr. Todd
Yohn, Mr. Douglas Wilcoxson, Dr. Brent Baas, Dr. Kenneth Hall
Cost / month $14.99 Cost / month $0 Cost / month $0 Cost / month $36.99
GB / month 237 GB / month ! GB / month 60 GB / month 474
Cost / month $0 Cost / month $0 Cost / month $0 Cost / month $0 $15
GB / month ! GB / month 20* GB / month 150 GB / month 5 10
* - Overages are explicitly allowed several times a semester
At the suggestion of several members of student senate, the following list of ideas has been
compiled for the purpose of clarifying our particular concern for LeTourneau's network
policy. The following list is meant to be both practical and technical in content.
Routers
LeTourneau's network policies require that students do not use a router in their dorm
rooms. This prohibition limits students with multiple computers from connecting them all to
the network at the same time. This rule also presents difficulties for 'power suites' (Suites
where four people sleep in one room and work in the other). Aside from buying wireless
cards for each desktop computer, no legal option exists for students with more than one
desktop computer. Also, since wireless connectivity is inherently latent, some users desire
to connect their laptop to their room's ethernet port. Again, if a desktop is already
connected, this is not a legal option.
Wireless
Almost all students who use Linux on a laptop have experienced extreme difficulty in
connecting to the wireless networks here on campus. Handheld wireless devices such as
PDAs often lack support to connect to the campus' wireless service. For those who have
difficulty connecting, the laptop or handheld device is deemed almost useless since it
cannot connect to the internet anywhere on the campus. Nintendo's current generation
console, the Wii, also cannot connect to LeTourneau's wireless
network. Since information technology does not support any of the aforementioned
devices, students often find illegal routes to provide service to their device. For
instance, they might setup their own wireless router.
Wireless connection quality for many computers is 'spotty'. In addition to Linux, some
Microsoft machines along with many Macintosh computers have difficulty maintaining a
wireless connection on campus. All computers experiencing this difficulty occasionally drop
their wireless connection for no apparent reason. Not only does this slow productivity, but
requires that the user re-enter his or her login information before reconnecting.
Game Systems
Microsoft Xbox Live is a service offered to Xbox and Xbox 360 users to facilitate online
gaming. The current network profile inherently lacks the ability to support Xbox Live since
the network is overly protective against any and all unsolicited network traffic.
Network Restrictions
Many outgoing services are blocked on this network. These include virtual
private network (VPN), remote desktop (RDP), pings, and traceroutes. VPN is often
necessary for students who desire to work from on-campus. Remote Desktop is also very
useful in facilitating the repair of off-campus computers. Administrating other machines
over the internet is a necessary part any information technology related career. In
addition, those students who own servers or websites off campus need the ability to ping or
traceroute to detect whether or not their server is functioning properly. Blocking these
protocols and features has restricted many job opportunities and continues to aggravate
and harm students.
As mentioned in the above open-letter, legal torrents are common in the computer
world. Large downloads are often served using torrents to save bandwidth for the owner of
the server.
Unsolicited incoming traffic is always blocked. This general restriction prohibits the use
of legitimate services such as website hosting, game hosting, and remote console (RCON).