Universities complain of new FCC requirements; GW not joining fight

Colleges across the country are criticizing a federal order that forces them to allow law enforcement officials to more easily monitor online communications. But GW has not directly joined the fight.

The order, issued by the Federal Communications Commission in August, is an extension of a 1994 wiretap law and subjects universities as well as large-scale Internet providers, libraries and airports to new technology requirements.

Prior to the FCC ruling, law enforcement officials could cooperate with universities to monitor online activity through individual Internet infrastructures. The new requirement forces most universities to upgrade equipment and other aspects of infrastructure so that law enforcement can monitor all Internet communications directly, even from off-campus sites.

The act was originally intended to apply to telephone networks, but the FCC decided to update the act in response to the rapidly growing popularity of sending voice communications over the Internet – a service known as VoIP.

FCC spokesmen did not return calls from The Hatchet last week.

The new stipulations go into effect Nov. 14; schools have until May 2007 to comply with the regulations. Schools or associations can file exemptions or extensions until Nov. 14.

Alexa Kim, executive director of Information Systems and Services Technology Services, said she is unsure what type of changes GW would have to make to comply with the order. She said that as of now, the changes are having little or no impact on GW, and once clarifications are made, she believes GW will not have to make major changes. She said GW has limited VoIP service.

The American Council on Education, an association representing 1,800 U.S. colleges and universities that counts GW as a member, is at the forefront of the fight against the order. The ACE cites high costs and a rushed timetable as problems with the changes. The association estimates that the cost to schools across the country for making the upgrade – including the purchase of routers, switches and manpower – will be about $7 billion.

GW is not directly involved any lawsuits regarding the order, Kim said, adding that it is too premature to discuss possible costs for GW. She said the FCC proposal “indicated that the cost associated for compliance would not be prohibitive.”

Some schools fear that the money needed to make upgrades will be diverted from other projects. The council estimates that tuitions will be raised $450 annually due to costs associated with the plan. Concerned schools are going through the association to get their concerns heard in court; on Oct. 24, ACE filed a lawsuit appealing the regulations.

Georgetown University is also a member of the college association, but has not taken an independent position and does not plan to, university spokeswoman Julie Green Bataille said.

Both Georgetown and the University of Maryland are still in the exploratory process concerning the potential costs associated with an upgrade.

“Our equipment is old enough – we think we may have to replace all the routers and switches … it could be in the millions,” said Jeff Huskamp, Maryland’s vice president and chief information officer.

Although many schools understand the need for heightened security to combat terrorism, they find the solution implemented by the FCC illogical.

“To have a large number of universities make this investment doesn’t seem to make sense,” Huskamp said. “There’s no way to not impact academics or infrastructure of the university – it will be noticeable.”

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