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Cable Company Challenges Plan
for Integrated Technology Services
to Dorms
September 6, 1999

The University's plans to implement an integrated voice, video and data system that will provide academic content, student information, entertainment and other services to residence hall students this year has been stalled by a challenge filed by the local cable television provider.

"In developing this network, UConn's priority is to enhance educational and student life experience," says Paul J. Kobulnicky, vice chancellor for information technology.

The new integrated system is part of the University's transformation, which includes renewed emphasis on undergraduate programs, revitalized teaching and research and a rebuilt and renewed campus infrastructure.

"It is critically important for our students to have full access to information in all of its formats," says Kobulnicky. "UConn's technological capability must be powerful and flexible to adapt to the rapid and profound changes in the telecommunications spectrum. The distinctions between voice, video, and data channels are disappearing, and in their place is an increasingly integrated environment," he said.

The UConn program is based on a satellite master antenna television system (SMATV) system and will provide students integrated access to videos used in class, replays of specific lectures, class notes and assignments; unique materials developed by faculty for a class or an individual student; a campus bulletin board; emergency notices and response information; touch-tone course registration; computer help-desk assistance; the University server; e-mail; telephone; Internet services, and entertainment.

The video part of the program, called HUSKYvision, will include 75 channels, including 42 educational and informational channels; 13 channels that allow the University to provide programing; and 20 entertainment channels.

Cost of the integrated service will be covered by a new fee schedule to take effect next fall. The fee, $125 per student per semester, is less than the cost of $150 to $226 per student per semester for separate video, Internet and phone services, that is currently in effect.

"The program will provide students with better instruction and more convenience, and provide the University with more channels for educational delivery, all at a lower cost. It is both state of the art and cost efficient," Kobulnicky said.

The service is already working in McMahon Hall, the graduate residences and South Campus. Service cannot be provided to residence halls east of Route 195 or north of North Eagleville Road, however, in light of a challenge filed with the Department of Public Utilities by Charter Communications, the company holding the local cable franchise.

Since 1994, the University has attempted to negotiate with Charter, and its two predecessor companies. In 1998, unable to reach an agreement with Charter, UConn put out a request for proposal in a public bidding process, in an attempt to obtain a video provider. When Charter failed to submit a bid, the University had no alternative but to form HUSKYvision, its own SMATV service. The University's plan was guided by the advice and counsel of the Office of the Attorney General.

After service began, Charter filed a challenge against the University before the DPUC. UConn's position was supported by the state's Office of Consumer Counsel and the Department of Information Technology in separate filings with the DPUC.

The DPUC agreed with UConn's contention that it has the authority to construct and operate the SMATV system, but said the video transmission cannot cross a public road via existing cable connections. This means that, while the University prepares to appeal the ruling and reviews other alternatives for delivering the service, students in residence halls east of Route 195 and north of North Eagleville Road must purchase cable from Charter at a cost of $70 to $80 per semester per student, just for video services.

"We feel that it is important to serve as many students as we can while we work hard to obtain the right of all students to have integrated services," said Kobulnicky.

Students have organized to fight the Charter Communications action. Led by the Undergraduate Student Government and CONNPIRG, they have formed the Coalition for Fair Cable.

Karen A. Grava