UTD Information Resources officials said Sept. 10 they are reversing their previous decision to ban private wireless access points in Waterview Park after the discovery of an FCC ruling prohibiting such a move.
In a Sept. 8 letter distributed throughout Waterview Park, UTD threatened disciplinary action against residents running personal wireless access points. The move was intended to solve connectivity issues, said Doug Jackson, director of information resources.
However, a public notice dated June 24, 2004, from the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) – which regulates all wireless signals in the United States – affirmed that consumers have the right to install and operate wireless access points.
The access points allow private DSL or cable modem Internet connections to be shared among multiple people within range of the access point.
The FCC notice also states, under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC holds exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of radio frequency interference issues.
“Based on what they (the FCC) say, I’m going to have to back away from the policy,” said Bill Hargrove, executive director of information resources. He suspects the university could make an argument to support the decision, “but it’s not worth the brouhaha.”
The initial policy sparked a firestorm among affected students on websites including waterviewsux.com, utdmercury.com and slashdot.org, a national online discussion forum of technical issues.
Many students expressed anger over a portion of the distributed letter which speculated that users with private access points may be engaging “in activities … such as peer-to-peer file sharing of copyrighted materials.”
“It infuriated me, to see it insinuating that we were all pirates for choosing to use our own Internet connection. It made my blood boil pretty quick,” said senior electrical engineering major Trent Jacobs.
Jacobs installed DSL in his Phase Two apartment several years ago before the wireless network existed and continues to use it so he can access his computer as a file server from off-campus, which cannot be done through the campus network. He also said he cannot access UTD’s wireless network in some parts of his apartment.
IR is working on various solutions to improve the connection and the access point policy was seen as one method to combat the troubles the system has had, Jackson said.
“We went out and did some serious investigation and discovered a correlation between locations with multiple access points and the people with connectivity issues,” Jackson said.
Once the IR department asked users to turn off their access points, the problems went away, he said.
Previously, only a few existed on campus but, “we went from a handful to hundreds this fall,” Jackson said.
The connectivity problem stems from the fact that, if not told to do otherwise, many wireless cards will automatically connect to the strongest signal available. In Waterview’s case, a network card might jump onto a neighbor’s stronger access point instead of the possibly weaker UTD wireless network. The network swap can cause a “denial of service” conflict and a failure to connect to the Internet, Jackson said.
IR officials said they hoped shutting down personal access points would stop cards from arbitrarily swapping their signal source.
Other universities including George Washington, Georgia Tech and UT Austin presently ban private wireless networks, although only in university-owned residences.
Hargrove also took into account the fact UTD does not own all of the apartments.
“It (Waterview) falls into a gray area of what is campus housing and what are true apartments,” Hargrove said.
If the university owned the buildings like traditional dorms, IR officials would have more leverage as to what devices were allowed, but the FCC would retain control of the frequency usage.
“The FCC will never allow anyone to have any jurisdiction over this bandwidth,” Hargrove said.
Students expressed satisfaction with the university’s change of heart.
“We were really excited to see the overturn of the decision,” Jacobs said. “I think the IR department wrote the letter without talking to the legal department.”