Wi-Fi woes impact students’ ability to learn this semester

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor Elect

On-campus Wi-Fi was already necessary for most students’ courses before the coronavirus pandemic hit in full force in March of 2020. A year on, with the virus requiring many classes to be remote in some capacity, on-campus Wi-Fi is still struggling to perform for students’ needs. 

Some residential students have had to seek out Wi-Fi hotspots across campus, coordinate to receive network cables from IT and, in a few cases, even go back to their homes to attend class.  

Two weeks ago, sophomore political science major, Zack Lawry, lost all access to the on-campus Wi-Fi. So did his roommates living with him in Conestoga Hall and several others living on their floor. 

“Well, I personally had to go home to do my classes because a lot of them are online. It was just impractical to come back downtown for the classes I had in person, so the few that I did have in person I ended up having to move remote anyways,” Lawry said. “I mean it was ironic that I basically was going home for all of my classes and then coming back to campus for the weekend and then just hoping that it would have been fixed. And usually it wasn’t, so then I had to go back home. So it was an inconvenience for me and also for my family having to come pick me up and drop me back off.” 

Lawry’s roommate, Dan Russo, opted to take the bus home for a few days at a time to complete his classes, knowing he would have a reliable connection there. However, he knows that for some students living on campus, commuting home is not an option. 

“But other people on the floor have just been kind of moving around the library and they’re camping out in the Playhouse essentially because where they live normally is far from home; they can’t just go home like I can,” Russo, a sophomore broadcast production and media management major, said. “So they’ve been having to work uncomfortably in whatever area they can find with a mask on and just be forced to deal with that.” 

Lawry and Russo said that the Wi-Fi was completely inaccessible for them for two and a half weeks and that it only came back this past weekend of March 13 to 14, though there are still occasional problems with it. 

For Russo, he said he is unable to connect to the Wi-Fi through his phone and has been using his cellular data to connect to the Internet. Prior to the two and a half week outage, Lawry, Russo and another one of their roommates could not connect to the Wi-Fi from their individual rooms and had to attend remote classes all together in the common area simultaneously. 

Students have been reporting higher volumes of Wi-Fi connectivity issues and outages not only in Conestoga Hall but across campus this semester. In a semester where many classes are being held remotely in some aspect, this is impacting students’ ability to participate fully in their courses, but the IT Department said that change is on the way. 

“We seemed to have been experiencing an increase in reported issues for sure. Again, these issues could be related to a number of factors,” IT Director Dr. Tim Wilson said. “This could be caused by a number of things and is hard to tell. It could be collective network bandwidth usage, issues with personal machines or general internet issues. We take each report seriously and attempt to resolve the issue.”

Wilson said that once being alerted to these issues, IT has made network cables available with no charge to students that will allow them to “plug directly into the ‘wired network’ which should alleviate any ‘Wi-Fi’ connectivity issues.” He further stressed that students still experiencing issues after being supplied with a network cable should reach out again to IT. 

Junior creative writing major Megan Benfer, another resident of Conestoga Hall, has been experiencing on-campus Wi-Fi issues since the Fall 2019 semester. 

“So I’ve been talking with IT for the last year and a half, and it took a long time for them to listen to me and realize that there was a problem,” Benfer said. “But I think once they finally started communicating with me, they were like ‘here are these options.’” 

Benfer said at one point, even after receiving an Ethernet cord from IT, she experienced daily connectivity problems and would struggle to understand what her professors were saying or was “kicked out” of her classes multiple times. 

“It was on a daily basis before they came to the room and told me that the [Ethernet] port was dead, so I would be getting kicked out of class every single day,” Benfer said. “Now that I have an Ethernet cord, it’s mostly better. I still do experience some times where I get kicked out of class, but it’s definitely once a week instead of every day.”

The Ethernet cord provided to Benfer was not long enough to reach the port in her room, and she said she bought a longer cord and other equipment to adjust. 

Lawry and Russo also originally had issues with the Ethernet cords as they were incompatible with their Mac devices. Russo bought his own adaptor to work for his setup, and both Russo and Benfer said they did not want to have to pay out of pocket to buy equipment to fix Wi-Fi issues out of their control. 

“We have been giving students experiencing issues cables to connect,” IT Director Dr. Tim Wilson said. “We have not told students to purchase them on their own. We are committed to helping our students meet their academic goals. This type of connectivity is always the best as the bandwidth is not competing with other devices trying to access the same Wi-Fi hot-spot.”

Russo described his interactions with IT over the last few weeks as “incredibly frustrating.” 

“After I emailed IT, I agreed to let them come and let them look at our room. And they inspected one Ethernet port, the one that was back here at my desk,” Russo said. “They didn’t look anywhere else. They were maybe here 10, 15 minutes. They saw that I could get on using the one port and then were like ‘oh well that’s good enough.’ And then I asked them ‘what about the phone situation?’ They flat-out told me there was nothing they could do.” 

In 2019, Wilson discussed with the student government a more than $1.5 million upgrade to systems at the university and recently confirmed to The Globe that these plans to improve on-campus Wi-Fi are ongoing. 

“The pandemic has not hampered this effort. Our board of trustees and leadership is committed to this project and keeping our network technology up to date. We know the importance of connectivity is to all our students,” Wilson said. “The phase that we are in right now is actually to replace all the Wi-Fi equipment in all residence hall spaces. As student Wi-Fi demands have increased, we will be placing Wi-Fi access points inside the rooms and not in the hall. This will give us more access points and move those access points closer to where the student technology is thereby greatly improving connectivity. This will greatly improve the experience.”

An email provided from Russo from an IT Help Desk supervisor, however, indicates that COVID-19 has had an impact on these plans. In a response to Russo, the supervisor wrote the following on March 8, 2021: 

“To give you an update on the Wi-Fi in Conestoga, we currently have a plan in motion to upgrade the Wi-Fi network in our residence halls, including Conestoga. This redesign of the network began last year, but unfortunately due to a shortage of the equipment supplied due to the pandemic, the overhaul has unfortunately been pushed back to this summer. Once the equipment arrives, our department will work to go floor by floor, replacing and upgrading Wi-Fi equipment to provide better coverage and connectivity by the fall semester. Since this is not possible until the summer, and classes are still in session, Ethernet cords are being provided as an interim solution to bypass the Wi-Fi and connect users directly to the Internet.”

“We are working on this issue this semester,” Wilson said to The Globe. “Any issues should be reported to our Help Desk as we are tracking them and looking for patterns. We will use this data to prioritize the installation of equipment when it arrives on campus.” 

For Lawry, who had to miss multiple classes while figuring out the situation, he said solving the issues is only one step to addressing students’ needs. He is worried if he experiences more problems in the future, his professors are not likely to believe that his Wi-Fi issues are legitimate since no university-wide communication has been sent out. 

“And I don’t know if they’ve contacted any professors to let them know about the issues because I know personally I feel like my professors are going to get suspicious at some point that I’m just lying about these things to get out of doing class,” he said. “So it would be cool if they would do that as well, to let them know that these issues are real and aren’t just being made up by students.” 

He added that he would like the university to take another step to address how he and other students were impacted by the Wi-Fi issues. 

“I think that since the problem was so severe at least for our floor for two weeks, personally I feel that there should be some kind of compensation for people who had to go home and weren’t able to live on campus in the suites or the rooms that they’ve been paying for,” Lawry said. “It’s very expensive obviously to live on campus and the fact that a lot of us weren’t able to do so for issues that were ultimately the university’s fault, it just doesn’t feel fair to have to pay to live somewhere that we couldn’t live because the university wasn’t providing the means to do our classes.” 

“It’s like this school is trying to make it incredibly difficult for me to like it here,” Russo said. “Like they’re doing everything in their power to make attending class here frustrating. Because I really want to like it here, but there are just so many small issues like the Wi-Fi that just pile up and make me strongly consider wanting to cease living on campus or flat-out go somewhere else.”