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A case study: UC Berkeley

As UC Berkeley struggles to address the demand for student access, the campus is becoming a case study in how universities are dealing with the problem.

Like many other schools, the University of California at Berkeley has the twin burdens of shrinking budgets and growing demands for Internet access. As a result, it recently became one of the first campuses to cut a deal with a commercial Internet service provider so that staff and students could have an alternative route online--if they pay for it themselves. Similar concerns are facing other universities across the country.

The following chart outlines what UC Berkeley recharges its departments for dial-up modem access. University administrators estimate that it would cost three times as much to provide "flawless" service.

Estimated monthly costs of maintaining dial-up network access for UC Berkeley
Modem chassis and modem cards $36.50
Phone line $23.00
Phone line installation $4.75
Labor $3.50
Total per modem/per month $67.75
x 600 modems $40,650
x 12 months $487,800

The expense of Berkeley's dial-up access is attributable to several factors:

High-quality technology: Berkeley chooses to use what it calls the "newest" modem technology--speeds of 28.8 kbps, rather than 14.4 kbps--its relatively high cost notwithstanding.
Maintenance: Berkeley manages banks of several hundred modems to support students, faculty, and staff. It therefore pays large sums to upgrade equipment and retain computer services staff.
Politics: Because Berkeley is a state university, the administration is required to provide equal access to all. Administrators are not in a position to decide whether certain groups or departments can have a priority service. The cost remains high because the university must provide high-quality service even to those who do not fully use the dial-up service.

For more information, please see: "Why Does a Recharge Modem Cost So Much?" by Cliff Frost, Berkeley Computing & Communications, Volume 5, No. 3 (April-May 1995). Copyright 1995, the Regents of the University of California.