The Supra of the Infra
The costs of building a university infrastructure are enormous. The Homewood campus at Johns Hopkins is home to 5,200 students, faculty, and staff who want connections to the Internet. The start-up costs for rewiring the campus for UTPs (Unshielded Twisted Pairs)-at a rate of about $150 per connection-would have been impossibly high for the university if not for $1 million in help from the Pew Trust. According to Bill Winn, formerly associate director for academic computing at the Hopkins, it costs $20 per person per month to connect to the campus network. The network itself costs $1 million per year to maintain and an additional $200,000 to support PPP (point-to-point protocol) connections. The annual
bill to provide Internet access to the 900 students who live off-campus is an additional $200,000. The fee to the campus's Internet service provider for a 4-megabit per-second Internet link, plus maintenance and management, costs the university about $50,000 per year.
Students, Winn says, require high maintenance: if their connections are insecure, it is often because the connections have been ripped from the wall. Last year, students in engineering attempted to install a software upgrade for a switch that exceeded their wildest dreams: it shut down the university's system for more than a week. That adds up to about $20,000 of lost Internet access, not to mention the costs of repair.
In 1996, Johns Hopkins University budgeted $70,000 for hardware maintenance and $175,000 for hardware upgrades, chiefly to handle rapidly increasing traffic. The million-dollar budget supports a staff of three technicians, an engineer, a software analyst, and a director for networking. Their skills are in high demand, the salaries they can command are rising rapidly, and they are notoriously hard to retain.
A $15-to $20-per-month access charge is comparable to other campuses elsewhere in the United States. When it costs $180 to $240 per person per year to link a computer to the Internet, a university's administration confronts a huge recurring cost. And the costs go deeper: it is typical for each academic department to bear most of the costs for its own infrastructure, and often some department systems are incompatible with others. In order to make an initial investment worthwhile, expensive investments must be made regularly: upgrades, peripherals, database access fees, consultants, and specialized software. It is no wonder that many colleges have second thoughts about their level of commitment to Internet access.
To some extent, electronic publishers are stymied by the lag between the Internet's ability to produce and its readers' ability to receive. The lag bears a price tag, and so does any effort to close it. Some institutions cannot or will not pay, most state governments cannot pick up the bill, and the federal government is increasingly reluctant to reserve space or investment for scholarly networking. It becomes a matter for the publisher and the market to decide.