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University as Service Provider

According to an informational sheet from campus-firewatch.com, which cites data from the department of education, approximately two-thirds of students who attend college live “off-campus”.  In 2009, the Fiscal & Economic Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater publish a report which highlighted that a majority of students who live off-campus, actually live within one to two blocks from the university.   For years, universities have sought ways to capture the “students living off-campus” market, whether it be via university owned property (rental income), food services (meal plans), and information technology (telephone services and broadband network access).

When many universities were making a killing with long distance resell, some universities were able to capture this off-campus student market through a PBX service known as Direct Inward System Access (DISA).  Other universities explored options of becoming a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier either by establishing their own facilities or leveraging the Unbundled Network Elements provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

When broadband internet access began taking shape, some universities began looking at their Instruction Television Fixed Service Channels (ITFS) as an option to provide wireless network connectivity to students who resided in close proximity to the university.  Recently, as the FCC mandated Television stations to transition to digital service, Television White Spaces (TVWS) has developed as a license-free option for the delivery of wireless internet service.  In fact, there is an initiative by the founders of Gig.U to leverage TVWS to deliver what is being labeled as “Super-WiFi” through the Advanced Internet Regions consortium (AIR.U).  One of the first pilots of AIR.U is being conducted in Morgantown, West Virginia through a partnership with West Virginia University.  This new offering may open the door for universities to offer wireless broadband internet service to their students who live within five miles of the university.

Of course there are always philosophical questions about what business should the university be in.  Is the university in the services business, or is it in the business of educating students?  The question I propose is whether these two businesses are mutually exclusive?  When it comes to students living on-campus, universities typically have no issues with providing auxiliary services and quantifying them as “quality of life” services.  So why can’t we use the same rationale, and extend these services to students who don’t reside within the university’s acreage?

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