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February 17, 1997

Internet, telephone connections part of new Student Communications System

By Francine Tyler

Residents of Merrill's B building will be able to bypass busy signals, time limits, and tied up telephone lines next quarter to log directly onto the campus computer network over high speed ethernet lines.

In a pilot program, students in that residence hall will be the first to use the Student Communications System, an $8.1-million project to provide all students who live on campus with better communications tools.

"Some of our facilities are 30 years old, and we need to update them if we wish to remain competitive with other universities," says Peggy Asuncion, assistant director of housing for facilities. "We are trying to make UCSC as attractive as possible to students, and we want to provide services that make them want to live on campus."

A collaboration between Housing Services, Communications and Technology Services, and the colleges, the Student Communications System will lay the groundwork for improved Internet access and better telephone service. It will also help the university educate its students about computers and their uses, says Asuncion.

"In the residence halls, we have a real captive audience," she says. "For first-year students especially, their stay here can be a good time to get them involved with computers and the Internet."

Last summer, construction started at Merrill and Crown colleges on inside building wiring for data and new telephone connections. This month construction started on the fiber-optic backbone for the campus communication system (dubbed "SlugNet"). Over the next two years, cable will connect to this new backbone to link all residence halls and apartments--approximately 4,200 bed spaces in 160 buildings--and some additional public spaces.

This fall, the rest of student residences at Merrill and Cowell, Stevenson, and Crown colleges and Crown/Merrill Apartments will come online. Porter, Oakes, and College Eight will link to SlugNet in fall 1998, and in fall 1999, Kresge, Graduate Housing, and Family Student Housing will follow.

As each college and housing unit joins the network, its resident students will gain access to the Internet from their own rooms through what's been dubbed "ResNet." All they'll need is a computer that is capable of using the high-speed ethernet lines. The lines will allow them to log on directly to the campus network and from there to the Internet, bypassing the CATS modems that those off campus must use to enter the UCSC system.

Students without computers (or with computers unable to use the technology) will be able to tap into ResNet from shared computers in lounges and other public areas, says Asuncion.

People are looking forward to the new services, says Crown administrative officer Frank Trueba, who is helping to design the Student Communications System. "You won't have to worry about dialing up to the campus server, you won't have to worry about busy signals," he said. "If you're a big computer user, you're pretty excited about it."

In fact, Elisa Lopez de Nava, a residential assistant at Merrill B, is planning to bring her computer to the campus next quarter just to try out the new service. She says she just learned how to use UC's Melvyl system to tap into library resources on line. "Having the computer in my room I think I'll be on Melvyl all day," she says with a laugh.

Enhanced telephone services

As each college joins the fiber-optic network, it will also gain residential telephone lines and a new telephone service, says Asuncion. When Merrill, Cowell, Stevenson, and Crown go online this coming fall, for example, the university will take over installation, billing, and other services from Pacific Bell, which currently provides service to UCSC's residential customers. (The Ericsson telephone system currently serving administrative and academic users will be expanded to provide service to campus residents.)

UCSC will be able to provide better service to students by taking over Pacific Bell's business on campus, said Asuncion. Because of deregulation, responsibility for the campus telephone infrastructure passed to UCSC in the early 1990s. Although the campus continues to pay Pacific Bell to maintain these wires through a maintenance agreement, the agreement doesn't include upgrading the wiring infrastructure, which is no longer adequate for modern demands.

"With modems, faxes, and people who like to talk on the phones, it's not a happy situation," says Asuncion. "It became clear to us that the telephone infrastructure was inadequate, and it was ours to upgrade, not Pacific Bell's."

The campus hopes to keep prices comparable with those charged by Pacific Bell even while offering more services, Asuncion says. The hope is that students will be able to get separate billing statements from their roommates, sign up for service earlier--perhaps while applying for housing--and even get a telephone number before move-in day, Asuncion says.

That would be a far cry from today, where one telephone line may serve as many as five students, separate billing isn't available, and students wait up to a week after move-in to receive telephone service.

Basic telephone charges and increased room rates would pay for the improved telephone and Internet-connection services over time, Asuncion says. Housing Services estimates it will raise its room rates by $192 a year in 1999 when construction is complete.

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