Newer, Better, Faster: DSL Service Makes it Easy to Link to University NetworkPITTSBURGHLike many college administrative staff and faculty members, Kristen Kurland, a senior lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School for Public Management, used to rely upon conventional telephone dial-up access to connect her home computer to the campus computer network. Kurland, who hasn’t had a campus office for much of the seven years she has taught at Carnegie Mellon, used to have a hard time getting into the campus network because of the limited number of connections the system allowed for telephone dial-up access. And once on the network, access to campus information and Internet access usually proved slow and cumbersome.“I had a limited amount of time to dial into the modem. I couldn’t get to most places in the network,” Kurland says. But last year, Carnegie Mellon officials came to the rescue and formally unveiled digital subscriber line service. DSL service provides high-speed Internet and campus network access from home for members of the university community.“It’s easier to get to our campus server. And the service is fast,” Kurland notes. For the past two years, local telephone companies and other telecommunication firms nationwide have introduced DSL as a consumer product to boost the speeds at which telephone customers can access the Internet. The Carnegie Mellon DSL service rollout was the result of a collaboration between the university and Verizon, formerly known as Bell Atlantic. Many colleges and universities are beginning to consider forming such partnerships to help upgrade the quality of campus network access for members of its community who work from their homes. “The need for speed never seems to disappear,” says Mary L. Pretz-Lawson, assistant director of computing at Carnegie Mellon.Pretz-Lawson recalls that university officials began collaborations with Verizon in the mid-1990s when telephone companies saw DSL as a successor to conventional dial-up Internet access. As a result of the partnership, DSL service trials got under way in 1996, and Carnegie Mellon officials opened it to all members of the university community in the spring of 1999. Pretz-Lawson says the collaboration provides a form of DSL known as “ADSL” or asymmetric digital subscriber line. In general, DSL service is technology that uses existing copper wiring, which exists in almost every home and office, and attaches special hardware to both the user end and the switch ends of a line. This allows data transmission over the wires at far greater speed than the standard phone wiring. At home or at an office, DSL provides high data transmission speed for a slightly higher price than consumer dial-up Internet access. Unlike dial-up services, DSL gives the user a constant connection to the Internet and e-mail.The ADSL version of DSL is named as such because of the different speeds at which a subscriber receives and transmits information. Reception speed is typically at a rate of 1.5 Mbps (megabits per second) to nine Mbps, while the slower rate of transmission usually ranges from 16 kbps (kilobits per second) to 800 kbps. Barbara Anderson, a professor and associate dean of Drama at Carnegie Mellon, says she appreciates her DSL service largely because of the speed at which it allows her to use the Internet and the campus network. “I think it helps tremendously in what you can do. I like being able to work on the computer in the middle of the night,” she says.Anderson says the DSL service has proven difficult in one area. She has not gotten adequate technical support to get her Apple MacIntosh computer at home to communicate with her office computer, also a MacIntosh, which is connected to the campus network. “I’ve kind of given up on getting my MacIntoshes working together again,” she says, noting that her home computer can access resources throughout the campus network. Pretz-Lawson estimates that of 600 people using the DSL service, half are students, 25 percent faculty and 25 percent staff. The university administers the service for its users and takes maintenance calls to keep the service in working condition. Carnegie Mellon also acts as the Internet service provider in the partnership, according to Pretz-Lawson. On the West Coast, Stanford University also is providing DSL service for its academic community. Carlos L. Zertuche, a Stanford communication systems analyst, estimates that between 400 and 500 people subscribe to Stanford’s DSL service. Stanford has been collaborating with Covad Communications for the past three years, but is switching to partner with Pacific Bell over the next year, according to Zertuche. Pretz-Lawson says colleges and universities that are interested in providing DSL service for their community have to work closely with local telecommunication companies to ensure a high level of service. “This is still an emerging technology, and it very much needs to be supported technically,” she says.
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