Hillsdale’s Mossey Library. Emma Vinton | Col­legian

I’ll admit it. I’m one of those stu­dents that stands in line to be the first to get at those four or five pleasant study spots — one of the three tables in the cloistral silence of the shelves on the left of pur­gatory, one of the four or five nice chairs in the Her­itage Room, or maybe even the one-and-only window table in the corner of par­adise, where the leaves from the trees outside the windows hedge the student in with an ever-moving wall of gold and green. Often my patience is rewarded. I swing my backpack down with a tri­umphant thud and claim the much-desired table only to find — horror of horrors — that the internet con­nection isn’t strong enough to access a Google doc­ument.

Maybe I should stop com­plaining and download Microsoft Office — that way I’d be able to work on doc­u­ments offline — but that doesn’t address the problem. It should be easy to connect to the internet in the library — the very locus of learning. If there’s one place where you ought to be able to browse the JSTOR database or simply download doc­u­ments, it’s the library.

Nothing frus­trates me more than when things don’t work the way they’re sup­posed to. So I decided to talk to infor­mation tech­nology ser­vices about the issue.

According to Patrick Char­trand, the lead network engineer in ITS, the internet in Hillsdale is lightning quick. In the early 2000s, former ITS director David Zenz nego­tiated with Merit Network Inc. to install fiber optics, which made Hillsdale College part of the backbone of internet infra­structure that serves all of central Michigan. Char­trand reported that the con­nection between Hillsdale’s firewall and the Merit Inc. ISP router gives the college a stunning 10 GB con­nection. Trans­lation: Hillsdale’s internet is fast. So why am I having trouble? Why can’t I have access to the internet in my favorite study spot?

Char­trand explained although the con­nection is flawless on the front end — the college has no problem con­necting to Merit’s router — the problems that stu­dents expe­rience on the back end come from limited access points on campus. Right now there are eight access points in the library. That might seem like a lot, but in reality, a Wi-Fi con­nection is choked by the weakest link.

“A student con­necting to the access point through a brick wall is going to share his poor con­nection with everyone else trying to use that router,” Char­trand said.

So the solution is simply to install more access points, right?

Yes and no. Although increasing the number of access points can help to bring solid con­nection to areas with limited Wi-Fi, there is a downside.

“A Wi-Fi signal is like a wave,” Char­trand said. “When two waves meet, the troughs and crests can cancel each other out. It’s the same with a Wi-Fi signal. When two signals meet, it can result in a dead spot.

It isn’t just a matter of installing more access points. It’s also a tedious bal­ancing act.

A new access point costs about $175, Char­trand said. The network cable that links the access point to the network switches in the data center costs between $600 to $1,200.

“We could easily double the number of access points in the library,” Char­trand said, “but throwing more access points into the mix isn’t always the right solution. You have to be aware of the many factors of wireless tech­nology and radio fre­quency and try your best to provide con­nec­tivity for the loca­tions that it’s needed, all while staying within budget.”

Char­trand said ITS just installed a new access point in the library’s fishbowl classroom last week.

If you are like me, bristling in frus­tration whenever your con­nection cuts out in the library, then be pacified. It turns out that this is a complex problem that takes a whole team of network engi­neers to fix. Rest assured: The ITS department is working tire­lessly to improve our con­nection.

Aaron Andrews is a senior studying English.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Let me tell you about con­necting up to WMU’s modem system back in 1974 and, every time a heavy truck drove by out on the street the phone would vibrate and boot you off-usually when you were in the middle of an assignment. But we could store our work-we printed it out on rolls of paper tape that you could feed back into the modem the next time you got access. Wasn’t much beyond counting on your fingers and toes.

  • Camus53

    A new access point costs about $175,
    Char­trand said. The network cable that links the access point to the
    network switches in the data center costs between $600 to $1,200.

    Yup…and the money the college has…the money the college raises…does it go to the needs of the students…or to further the political agenda of the school?

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      The endowment goes largely to funding schol­ar­ships for many of Hillsdale’s stu­dents. If you harbor some illusion that somebody is mis­man­aging school dona­tions you couldn’t be more wrong. Hillsdale squeezes every nickle until the Buffalo squats and craps, they get an amazing amount done with what they have to work with.