University evaluates dorm phones

University officials are considering the elimination of telephones in residence hall rooms in response to decreased demand and the widespread use of cell phones.

GW is following in the steps of colleges across the country that are contemplating silencing dorm phones that in many cases go practically unused by students. Officials stressed that they are far from making a decision on the future of dorm phones.

“We’re just looking into this,” Louis Katz, GW’s executive vice president and treasurer, said.

He said the University needs to determine whether the landlines provided to every resident are used frequently. Phone charges are included in the room and board payment; students must pay extra money to dial outside the GW system.

“The question is, is it still a valuable service or not? And that’s the question we’re trying to answer,” Katz said.

The University could not eliminate all landline phones in residence halls and would still need to operate a telecommunications system for faculty and staff.

“There are some strong reasons to leave some phones available to students, including the problems with cell phone reception in some areas (and) the need for 911 emergency locator capabilities,” Katz said.

GW sponsored a cell phone reception survey last fall to determine the best and worst locations on campus for cell phone use. The consulting firm GW commissioned found that New Hall, Ivory Tower and 1957 E St. have the worst reception of residence halls in Foggy Bottom. The survey found that T-Mobile had the worst overall reception for service providers on both the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses.

Katz could not say how much money the University would save or when the removal would take place if GW decides to eliminate dorm phones.

“We have not even come close to formulating what decisions we will or will not make,” Katz said.

American University announced in January that it would remove all landlines in residence hall rooms by fall 2005. AU would save $1 million through the initial elimination of the phone network, according to a report in The Eagle, the school’s student newspaper. Courtesy phones will be placed on each floor so students can make outgoing local calls.

Penn State University, Duke University and the University of Kansas may also axe their dorm phone systems.

American U. student reaction to the plan “has been a mixed bag,” said Julie Weber, AU’s executive director of housing and dining. Students are most concerned about poor Verizon cell phone reception on campus, she said.

GW senior Nina Jayakrishnan, an Ivory Tower resident, said she uses her dorm phone when she is low on cell phone minutes but would not consider it a “big loss” if landlines were removed.

“I can only use landlines to call rooms because people usually have an out of town cell phone number,” Jayakrishnan said.

While many students choose not to use their dorm phones, some students said they would prefer the University did not eliminate them.

“I don’t want to give out my personal phone number to the admissions office of the Elliott School,” senior Michael Fernandez said.

Fernandez, who is from Puerto Rico, also said it is cheaper for his parents to call him on a landline.

GW will take student input into account as it evaluates the phone system, Katz said.

“If this was the kind of thing that there was a lot of support to eliminate the phones,” he said, “we would eliminate the phones.”

-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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