Fee peeves students who use Internet off campus
By RYAN MEEHAN
TAMPA -- Thousands of University of South Florida students who get free access to the Internet through the school's dial-up modem service are about to lose their perk.
The decision to ax the service starting July 1 has some students questioning whether USF is committed to providing the resources needed to build a major research institution.
Administrators say that's nonsense. USF is making the best of a tough situation, said university spokesman Michael Reich.
"Do you cut people? Do you cut academic programs? Do you take classes away from students?" Reich asked.
The change, which only affects students who live off campus, will save the university $184,000. That's less than 1 percent of the $20-million administrators are trimming because of state budget cuts.
Rayeanne King, a USF junior, is on a tight budget of her own. Having access to a free Internet connection -- a service she has used for a year, courtesy of USF's Academic Computing department -- was something she appreciated.
Come July, that service will cost her $5.99 a month.
"I can't afford to feed myself," King said. "That $6 a month could really put a lot of gas in your tank."
Administrators said something had to be cut.
"If a student is so poor they can't afford $6 per month, it's very unlikely they can afford the fees to take a class," said Tony Llewellyn, USF's director of academic computing.
That's not the point, King said.
Many of her professors post grades and assignments on the Internet. This summer she is taking an online course that doesn't end until the middle of July.
There are certain things, she said, that students at a research university should have at their disposal free of charge.
"It's very frustrating," King said.
USF officials say about 7,700 people use the free service, the vast majority of them students. But some professors are angry, too.
Roy Weatherford, the president of USF's faculty union, said administrators did not consult the union before making the cut even though it changes the terms and conditions of faculty employment.
"Before this decision we had as one of our tools the benefit of dialing into USF for free," he said. "Now we are being forced to choose between having less money and doing a worse job."
The union voted unanimously last week to seek a meeting with USF president Judy Genshaft to discuss the matter.
Student body vice president Dave Mincberg said he has fielded few complaints about the change. He said students who live off campus will have free access to the Internet through computers in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, the library and most university labs.
Budget cuts are tough, Mincberg said, and everyone is going to have to adjust.
"What it comes down to is if students want to do late-night research from their homes off campus, they are just going to have to work an extra hour at their jobs to make that $6," he said.
While USF officials are blaming the cut on the state's budget woes, other Florida universities are sparing Internet access.
At Florida State University, students, faculty and staff who live off campus have free access to the Internet despite budget cuts that forced the school to reduce the number of phone lines it uses to access the Web, said Carl Baker, director for academic computing and network services.
At the University of Florida, off-campus students have free access through a dial-up modem pool. But the service is not unlimited. Undergraduates are allowed 60 hours per month, while graduate students have 90 hours per month.
When students exceed their monthly limit they are charged .008 cents per minute.
"(Internet access) is an absolute must in terms of a university being competitive," said Bob Holley, director of publications and knowledge management at Florida International University in Miami, which offers free dial-up service to its graduate students, faculty and staff.
Llewellyn said USF considered other options, including cutting funding to computer labs on campus. But the hours of operation for the labs already have been cut.
"We're caught between a rock and a hard place," Llewellyn said. "The state of Florida just isn't providing the resources."
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