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Ohio University Grapples with Netflix Usage

22 Mar, 2011 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Ohio University has instituted broadband caps on its students as increasing combinations of academic and recreational data (such as Netflix and YouTube) strain college Internet networks.

The Athens-based school with more than 32,000 students instituted a 5 Mbps (megabits per second) limit on individual student Web accounts when research indicated 60% of bandwidth was being used for entertainment streaming, including 28% for Netflix content and 12% for Flash video such as YouTube. Other uses included 25% for Web browsing and 7% for file sharing.

Colleges nationwide typically include broadband access to students as part of their tuition fees. While the caps have limited effect on average users, laptops are de rigeur in most campus dorms, in addition to social media, downloading and streaming. Such activities — especially during finals — clogged the network to the point that OU students and faculty had difficulty accessing essential school services such as a Web-based curriculum management system.

Indeed, the school’s network technicians March 14 attempted to restrict Netflix access at 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., which resulted in Internet outages across the campus. This occurred despite the fact that the school received a 10% bandwidth increase in February from the state’s supercomputer system.

“The university community needs to have a substantive conversation about how we address the challenge of rising demand for Internet capacity,” OU chief information officer Brice Bible told the school news site.

Bandwidth caps and fees imposed by cable, telecommunications operators and related ISPs prompted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in January to endorse equal sharing of costs of transferring data bits among all parties.

“Today, some ISPs charge us, or our CDN partners, to let in the bits their customers have requested from us, and we think this is inappropriate,” Hastings wrote in a letter to shareholders. “As long as we pay for getting the bits to the regional interchanges of the ISP’s choosing, we don’t think they should be able to use their exclusive control of their residential customers to force us to pay them to let in the data their customers’ desire.”

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