Students deserve better internet connection

About two weeks ago, thousands of students logged on to their computers for the split-second race to register for classes. But for all the preparation that many put in, poor Wi-Fi often stood in the way of them and their dream classes.

Strong internet connection is necessary for succeeding in today’s technology oriented environment, but unfortunately GW’s slow and spotty Wi-Fi can make online work more difficult and success in classes less attainable. Class registration just scratches the surface of all the activities students need internet connection for – we use it for doing online research, reading textbooks, watching class lectures and accessing Blackboard.

Needless to say, the majority of work done requires that students have access to steady and fast WiFi. Students also need a connection to call family back home, sign up for a COVID-19 test or email a professor. The list could go on, but the message stays the same: a college student’s need for Wi-Fi is ubiquitous.

In my experience, having a stable connection to GWireless for more than a half hour at a time is rare. Doing research that requires opening several tabs at a time can be especially frustrating, since a lull in internet connection means it can take at least another couple of minutes before I can do my next Google search. Video calls over GWireless are also especially difficult. Because videos use a large amount of bandwidth, it is not unusual for calls to stop or reload if there is not enough internet. Slow internet connection interrupts a variety of uses from online office hours over Zoom to calling family over WhatsApp.

The Wi-Fi issues extend into the Vern Express too. The Vex’s Wi-Fi – where each bus has its own server – has never worked for me during my daily trips to the Mount Vernon Campus. For a time-pressed student, the ability to connect to the internet on their commute could help them complete a last-minute assignment.

Just a generation ago, reliable WiFi was considered more of a convenience than a necessity. But today, the pace of work and expectations of communication demand that students have good Wi-Fi. Do you have a 30-minute quiz on Blackboard? A lull in WiFi could mean you don’t have enough time to finish it. What about a job interview? A frozen screen could disrupt a flowing conversation with a future employer. Many students deal with issues like these on a day-to-day basis. Some students I have talked to have been unable to register for classes they need for next semester, while others say that their school work takes significantly longer to complete. For today’s students, dysfunctional Wi-Fi is the equivalent of being locked out of a classroom, library or office. 

GW Information Technology has recognized the need for consistent Wi-Fi, noting on its website that each day more than 50,000 devices connect to GW’s internet. In response to the clear need for a strong internet, officials devised a plan called NextGen in 2019, promising to give GW “faster wireless speeds, improved roaming experiences, more robust coverage and better performance in congested areas.” That plan was slated to be completed in October 2020, but more than a year after the transition, students are still struggling to connect to reliable Wi-Fi.

It is evident that the IT department understands that internet connection is a necessity for the modern campus. But this recognition has not led to consistent internet connection across all of GW. The department should lead another review of the quality of internet connection across GW, focusing especially on the spotty connection in residence hall rooms and the lack of WiFi on the Vex buses.

GW should also look towards other universities’ strategies in providing their students Wi-Fi. The University of Michigan went through a bold upgrade of its internet services this past year starting with residence hall rooms over the summer and then expanding to academic buildings and even outside areas during the school year. Taking account of students’ patterns of internet use would be a smart way to go about fixing the WiFi issues at GW. 

Quality and consistent WiFi is a necessity for students taking classes in today’s day and age. Administrators must improve WiFi to ensure students can be as successful as possible during their time at GW. 

Analys Barinaga, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer. 

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