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Campus cable installation to begin

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, November 7, 2005

The University will begin delivering on its promise to add cable to dorm rooms as early as this week, when, pending the finalization of contractual agreements, Comcast begins installing its cable system into Sorin College, University officials said.

The project in Sorin is the beginning of campus-wide upgrades scheduled for each of the University’s 27 dorms. By the fall of 2006, every dorm room on campus will be wireless and have access to a similar version of Comcast’s expanded basic cable, Associate Vice President of Residence Life and Housing Bill Kirk said.

The addition of cable on campus will happen simultaneously with upgrades to ResNet, the campus-wide wired internet system, said Dewitt Latimer, assistant Provost of the Office of Information Technology.

Six more dorms will be upgraded over Christmas break and the remaining ones will undergo renovations in sets of three throughout the spring. The cable won’t be activated, though, until next fall.

“This is a huge project,” Kirk said. “It cannot just be done during the summer. We had to start it now in order to get this all completed so students all have the same opportunity in the fall semester.”

The implementation of campus-wide cable will eliminate the need for satellites, Kirk said. Currently, satellites are permitted as long as they do not damage the dorm. However, beginning in the fall, individual ones will be prohibited.

Along with the cable installation, contractors will also be installing wireless Internet in each dorm. But unlike the cable television, the wireless will be available immediately upon completion in each residence hall.

Director of Residence Life and Housing Jeffrey Shoup will meet with the rector, hall staff and residents of each dorm before they undergo the upgrade to explain the procedure and how it will affect dorm life.

“With this decision to implement cable, we are going to have some hardships,” Kirk said. “We have to say there [are] going to be some sacrifices as we prepare the residence halls for this.”

In order to accommodate for the updated ResNet system and new Comcast cables, the old ResNet and telephone cables must be taken out – completely cutting off all wired Internet and telephone connection for up to three weeks. The card swiping system will also be de-activated.

During this “dark period”, students living in residence halls undergoing these renovations will have to use cash for vending machines and rely on room keys to get in and out of the dorms, Shoup said.

All dorms will have a temporary wireless system installed during the ‘dark period.’ But its reliability and effectiveness will not be known until it has been implemented – Sorin is the guinea pig, so to speak.

“We’ve made available temporary wireless Internet in the lounges that will be installed when the dorm goes dark,” Shoup said. “It might be a little primitive-looking, but there will be wires taped down from the attic to the lounge that will radiate 75 feet.”

Shoup said students without wireless cards can rent one from OIT at no cost. He couldn’t make any promises on the reliability of the temporary wireless connections but said he is confident they will suffice.

“We don’t want people to panic about this,” Kirk said. “The hope is that there will be wireless coverage throughout so that the project won’t affect exam preparation. We understand students might be concerned.”

The work in Sorin should be completed, at the latest, by study days. Residents of Sorin are bracing for the worst since their dark period falls during the hectic days of class registration, Shoup said.

“I just hope it doesn’t disrupt dorm atmosphere,” sophomore Sorin resident Grant Van Eaton said. “Are they making a lot of noise? Are they constantly in and out of the room? Are hallways a mess? Hopefully they’ll be in the background and it won’t be too intrusive.”

Shoup is offering a computer cluster in his office for students who can’t get a wireless connection in Sorin and are trying to register for classes.

“We’ll have free pop and candy if people from Sorin are having a difficult time getting a wireless signal,” Shoup said.

Shoup did not specify when each dorm would undergo its renovations but said residence halls housing students with disabilities will probably be completed during Christmas break when no students are in the dorms.

“There are a few students with disabilities that have technology needs that we don’t think they could ever be in the dorms when they do dark,” Shoup said. “So we’ve taken that into account and students who have a direct phone line to police and fire department can relax.”

Precautionary measures are being taken to ensure that emergency assistance will be available should the dorm need it during a ‘dark period’.

“We’re working with Notre Dame Security/Police and the fire department to make sure they’re around the dorms that we’re working on,” assistant provost of OIT Dewitt Latimer said.

In another of the University’s major technology projects, OIT is working with cell phone providers to improve reception on campus. But the work won’t begin until spring when the snow melts off the roofs.

“We plan to address coverage and capacity for cell phone reception,” Latimer said. “We’re using a hidden antenna system where there will be smaller, stealthier cameras hidden around campus to improve the coverage.”

Improved cell phone reception will allow for the discontinuation of dorm room telephones. Beginning next fall, telephone service will be an option, but no longer provided for everyone.

Kirk said that discontinuing phone service is a logical step since fewer and fewer students check their room voicemail.

“We recognize if we’re taking away phones from residence halls, it’s not going to be perfect because cell phones can’t always get a perfect signal,” Kirk said. “But we are providing a substantial improvement.”

The major technological overhauls will be lengthy, but thorough, Kirk said.

“These are old, historical buildings,” Kirk said. “In order for it to be safe, long-lasting and professional, it’s going to take a long time. Of course issues are going to come up, but we will do our best not to cause too much disruption.”