says Napster slows gateway to Internet
JAMES FISHER, SENIOR COPY EDITOR
On the morning of Monday, February 19, Bowdoin's gateway
to the Internet was once again filling to the brim with traffic.
When students arrived on campus in late January for
the beginning of the term, Internet access had intensified as hundreds
of web browsers, e-mail applications, and Napster clients on campus were
By Valentine's Day, however, the pattern of use had
shifted; outgoing Internet activity-computers around the world requesting
web pages, e-mails, and mp3s from Bowdoin's network-was roaring, while
data coming into Bowdoin from the Internet were slowing down.
This was bad news for campus computer users. As the
Student Computing Committee (SCC) put it in an all-students e-mail later
that day, "Our bandwidth has evaporated because people are downloading
music FROM our computers, and the only thing we get in return for this
is a very slow Internet connection."
The SCC recommended that Bowdoin's Napster users alter
their settings to make their personal collections of music files unavailable
to the rest of the world, essentially raising a one-way electronic drawbridge.
The ability to receive files from off-campus computers would not be affected.
At the same time, the SCC advised Computing and Information
Services (CIS) to test technical solutions to the problem, including deliberately
limiting the size of the "pipe" feeding Napster-specific data from Bowdoin
to other computers.
The efforts seem to have been successful. Public statistics
on Bowdoin's Internet use at http://noc.bowdoin.edu/stats/wans_idx.html
showed that the next day witnessed a sharp drop in external Internet access
to Bowdoin's servers.
But on Tuesday February 27, while testing solutions,
CIS turned off the rate-limiting measures to gauge the staying power of
Bowdoin's treatment for Napster addiction. By 2:00 p.m., the outgoing
Internet traffic peaked; it did not decline until after midnight, and
peaked again 14 hours later, at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
What happened this month, when access to Bowdoin's information
networks became so tempting to computer users around the world, was an
unusually clear example of an issue that has befuddled educational institutions
around the country.
Both large universities and small colleges that make
it a point to provide universal high-speed Internet access to their students
are frustrated by the way their bandwidth evaporates' into music- and
John Meyers '02, chair of the Student Computing Committee,
pointed out that "we have a very fast Internet connection... Bowdoin is
rated in the top ten schools in the US in terms of bandwidth per student."
But one or two computers transferring large files quickly-which technologies
like Napster facilitate-is still enough to bring Internet connections
like Bowdoin's to a standstill, and the result is frustratingly sluggish
If schools try to solve the problem by expanding the
pipe and paying handsomely for faster Internet connections, as Bowdoin
has done, they find that the demand for bandwidth will often rise just
as fast as the supply. At Bowdoin, "the first-year dorms tend to be the
largest users of bandwidth," Meyers said.
The College is now exploring other ways to stem departing
Napster traffic, which, if successful, will make Internet access on campus
faster-including speedier Napster downloads to students' computers.
The SCC's current concern has nothing to do with Napster's
recent legal troubles, although the company is losing a suit brought by
the Recording Industry Association of America.
"Bowdoin has been very generous with Napster," Meyers
noted. "Whether you believe Napster violates copyright or not, there's
a technical problem to deal with."
Permanent solutions will be discussed at the next Information
Technology Committee meeting in March.
Meyers said that a comprehensive bandwidth policy, detailing
the amount of control Bowdoin will exercise over its Internet link, is
not far off.
"E-mail response [to the SCC e-mail] was wonderful,"
Meyers said, but "the actual technical response"-how many Napster users
actually made their files inaccessible to others-"is hard to judge."