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Residence Halls Go Hi-Tech
Students Receive Network
January 24, 2000

Students returning to UConn residence halls Sunday plugged into HUSKYvision, an integrated network of high speed data, video and voice communication services officials have promised since fall.

The network provides the nearly 7,900 students living on campus with immediate, plug-in access to a range of telephone services, including voice mail; more than 75 television stations, including 42 educational and informational channels; and a data network that brings students foreign news, culture and entertainment, campus bulletin boards, replays of lectures, videos used in class and course registration information.

All these services now will be provided directly to students' rooms.

Introduction of video services to all on-campus students stalled last summer when Charter Communications, the local cable service provider, obtained a ruling from the state Department of Public Utility Control that said UConn could not deliver the service across state highways. The ruling meant that HUSKYvision, the video portion of the network, could only be provided to students living in residence halls south of North Eagleville Road and west of Route 195 - roughly half the total on-campus student population. The University is appealing the ruling in Superior Court.

In response to a legislative request, the University and Charter began negotiating in recent months to see if a mutually acceptable agreement could be reached. But the negotiations with Charter, one of the nation's largest cable television providers, reached an impasse Jan. 11.

President Philip Austin, backed by the office of the state Attorney General, then decided to move forward with providing the full network of services to all residence halls. This is being accomplished through a contract with SNET, which is authorized by DPUC to carry video signals across state highways.

Charter attorneys sued UConn in state Superior Court Jan. 14, alleging that UConn was violating state laws by offering the service. A hearing on that suit will be held Feb. 8 in Rockville Superior Court.

The litigation does not sit well with state Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal. "This lawsuit is clearly unfounded, and we will vigorously oppose it," Blumenthal said in a statement issued by his office last week. "Charter Communications is a private cable franchise with absolutely no right to control public property that belongs rightfully to the state and its University. The lawsuit is a blatant attempt by Charter to enrich itself at the expense of public education and the University of Connecticut's students."

University officials said the cost to UConn students will be $50-$100 less per semester than students would pay private providers for the multiple services and, they said, the UConn system offers far more services, at a much higher quality, than any cable service could provide.

University officials have attempted to work with Charter and its predecessor companies since 1994 to obtain video programming content as part of the University's integrated voice, video and data network. The most recent negotiations broke down when Charter demanded rights on the University's data network - the high speed system University officials will use to deliver a wide range of educational services to students.

"We were unwilling to give any piece of our capacity to Charter so they could deliver their commercial product to our students," said Paul Kobulnicky, UConn's vice chancellor for information services. "What's important for the University of Connecticut is our digital future. Higher education is an information industry, and the University is being driven, and is driving, the digital revolution," he said. "Turning that responsibility over to a national cable company that happens to have a franchise in our geographic area makes no sense.

"UConn's goal is to be among the top public universities in the nation and, to do that, we must deliver top flight instructional services using the most up-to-date technology available," Kobulnicky said. "And we are going to do this at the lowest possible cost to our students."

Richard Veilleux