Universities around the UK are planning to clamp down on students' personal internet use following rising network costs - and once again Napster, the controversial file swapping system, is sharing the blame.
While some universities, such as the University of Science and Technology at Manchester (Umist) and the University of East Anglia (UEA), already charge students using the internet from university residences, others are now considering more widespread charges in the face of booming network costs.
UK universities are connected to the internet through the private Joint Academic Network (Janet). Universities must pay Janet for data downloaded from outside the UK, and the growing popularity of programs such as Napster means that they are now paying significantly more than before.
Napster has already been banned by several US universities, such as Indiana and Yale, citing fears of copyright transgression and the excessive demands on their network infrastructure. The response from UK universities has been mixed - some saw the problem coming years ago, others are now just considering their response.
Technology student-heavy Umist, for example, says its internet use is four times the average for a university of its size. It has charged students for some net access since 1995. Umist students can use the internet free of charge from on-campus computer units, but are billed direct for the full cost if they access non-Janet material from rooms in university-owned halls of residence.
A similar policy has been in effect at the UEA for the past three years. It charges 200 students for internet access as part of a £75-per-academic year telecoms package available on a limited basis. A UEA spokesman said while they had not yet charged any individuals extra for heavy use, they had the option to do so written into the rental agreements.
Some, such as Oxford and Cambridge University, say that leisure use of the internet is a cause for concern but are still assessing the impact it has on their computer services before they make a decision.
Other have adopted a blunter approach. Edinburgh University has already blocked access to the Napster servers.
Any such scheme will be deeply unpopular. A National Union of Students spokesman told vnunet.com: "Internet access is crucial. It is the future of learning. Full and free internet access for students is a crucial part of the universities' promises to provide employers with 21st century graduates."
He also defended students' use of Napster. "Downloading from the internet helps maximise your computer skills and is all part of the education process," he said.
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