Towson to wire dorms for Internet $2 million deal to give campus residents fast access via cable

March 24, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

Busy signals should soon be history for Towson State University students trying to surf the Internet.

Thanks to a $2.2 million deal with Comcast Cablevision of Maryland, TSU's 3,000 dormitory residents will have almost instant access to the Internet and World Wide Web by May, say university and cable officials.

In an agreement approved in January and to be unveiled today, TSU will become the first university in Maryland -- and one of just a few in the country -- to offer high-speed Internet services in its dormitories, using the same cable that brings in television channels.

The service, known as Comcasowson State University, also will include Comcast-generated news, entertainment and virtual-reality tours of local cultural attractions, such as the Walters Art Gallery.

The university will also be able to create content -- class schedules, course information and departmental announcements, said Jaye Gamble, area vice president of Comcast's Baltimore metropolitan systems.

"It's tremendous for our students. It provides literally the latest, state-of-the-art technology for them," said Dr. John D. Haeger, the university provost. The university has about 1,700 dorm rooms, which will be connected to Comcast.

Haeger said the school was looking at the possibility of adding the service to every office and classroom. "Think, maybe three or four years from now students could be taking courses in their homes. I suspect it will redefine the timing of courses," he said.

The agreement, approved in January by the Maryland Board of Public Works, covers three years of cable and Internet access.

It includes equipment, installation work and a seven-day-a-week help desk for students, said Deborah Leather, associate vice president for instructional technologies at Towson State.

"Students are going to be able to click out onto a lot of areas very quickly. They are going to get very high speed," Leather said. "It's very exciting."

To access the Internet from dormitories now, students must have their own computers, an online service and a phone.

Haeger noted that the school could not meet the demand for access by adding modems as increasing numbers of students own computers and more professors require Internet access for courses.

To use the service, students will pay a $50 installation fee for their computers, which will need a "network interface card" to plug into the system, Leather said.

Costs in addition to the installation fee will be included in the university's room and board fees, as is cable service. Students who do not use such services still will pay for them, Leather said. She would not say how much of the fees would be allotted for the Internet service.

The service is an adaptation of Comcasome, which the company introduced late last year to bring high-speed Internet access to its cable customers, beginning in parts of Baltimore County.

Cable modems, which will be installed at Towson State, are 75 times faster at downloading files from the Internet than the most advanced products available through telephone companies, Comcast said when it introduced the service.

With Comcasowson State, "the connection in the dorm room is always on," said Kirk Holmes, general manager for Comcast's Online Communications in this area. "This is ease of access. And the raw speed rivals what an organization would have to pay many, many thousands of dollars a month for."

Said Comcast's Gamble: "From the standpoint of the university and from Comcast, this is a very innovative use of the equipment. This will be the first institution of its kind in our market area."

Pub Date: 3/24/97

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