UC Irvine is censoring student access to the Internet. Since 2005, ResNet has used what is called a ‘packet shaper’ to filter any Internet traffic using protocols labeled by ResNet as ‘peer-to-peer.’ Concerned over the connection speed available for ‘legitimate’ and ‘educational’ purposes (their Web site claims 2percent of users used over 90 percent of the available bandwidth prior to the packet shaper), ResNet imposed a fierce policy on their student population, not only limiting, but imposing a complete ban on data transfer from a variety of modern applications.
I ran into this problem when trying to run a new piece of open-source software called Democracy Media Player (http://www.getdemocracy.com). This free piece of software created by computer programming hobbyists is a single program through which you can find and watch virtually all forms of video on the Internet. From C-SPAN to podcasts and YouTube, and any other video RSS feed, Democracy provides a free and very convenient method to take a virtual glance around the world. However, under its seamless surface, Democracy uses a variety of file transfer protocols to deliver its content. When I clicked a home video taken one morning in New Orleans to check up on the situation, the file transfer didn’t move.
Apparently, in the spirit of democracy, some files are hosted via BitTorrent, an effective method of hosting files without paying for file hosting. BitTorrent decentralizes the Internet server, asking that each person who downloads a video also uploads it to someone else once, or even twice if they’re nice. BitTorrent file hosting allows a person to share large files on the Internet without facing daunting server fees, or succumbing to the censorship and advertising of corporations like Google’s YouTube or News Corp.’s MySpace.
A person in a truly devastated area who’s in need of aid is not going to have an Internet server. And yet they are the ones who need the media attention most. While conglomerated television news programs tend to present a homogenous viewpoint, the classroom keeps reminding me to get as many perspectives as possible.
You’d think the school would be protecting the diversity of our information access. Since BitTorrent and other P2P protocols are completely egalitarian, they can be used for anything. Oftentimes, they are used for downloading copyrighted entertainment. Following in the spirit of the one-drop rule, all P2P traffic has been profiled as having ‘no legitimate or educational use’ and has been banned.
This is both an insult to our rights as students of this university and a deprivation of our participation in the modern state of world culture. The move declares that students are not to be trusted with unfiltered Internet connections, while simultaneously depriving us of perhaps the most fascinating technological feat of human history: free global information commerce.
If P2P is controversial, so be it. This is a university, after all. We’re all here to engage our minds in what is relevant in our times. Let’s open a dialogue about it. Let’s talk about intellectual property laws. Let’s talk about distribution monopolies. Let’s talk about bandwidth division and student fees.
Perhaps these stagnant devices of bureaucratic budgeting are pushing expansion of the education machine while neglecting the actual education it provides. The last thing that should be done in an educational institution in a ‘democratic’ society is to impose a rash decision about what information is ‘legitimate.’ After all, a democracy is only as effective as its population is informed. Cavalier censorship should not be tolerated.
If the campus was experiencing network slowdowns, as ResNet claims was the problem, they should do what any ISP does that wants to keep its customers happy while protecting their own interests: apply an upload cap. A 30-kilobyte-per-second upload cap is standard among broadband ISPs these days. It’s about time the university treated us like thinking beings in the digital age instead of savage learning beasts whose minds must be corralled down the approved definitions of a Legitimate Education
Filed Under: Opinion