Education

UNC eyes charging students for personal online use

Posted October 19, 2011 5:19 p.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2011 7:07 p.m. EDT

— For college students who grew up with the Internet and have spent countless hours surfing the Web and interacting via social media outlets, the thought of paying for time online is as foreign as a rotary phone.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill might soon make such an expense a harsh reality for its students, however.

A committee of UNC administrators and students looked for the past year at the costs of operating the campus computer network, which has until now been paid for by fees from people who purchase phone lines from the university.

Mike Barker, UNC's chief technology officer, said students now make up a smaller percentage of campus phone lines but account for a growing chunk of network usage.

"The basic principle here is just trying to be fair to all of our constituents," Barker said of the proposed Internet fee for students.

Students immediately panned the idea, saying they already pay enough in tuition and fees to cover their Internet usage.

"We are already paying for a lot of the other fees, like library fees, different dorm fees and stuff like that, and I already thought that was included," sophomore Sarah Clover said.

"With the tuition hikes already, it doesn't seem very fair to me," junior Mike Mohr said.

"I just don't think we should have to pay for Internet. We are going to school here. We are using it most of the time for school purposes," freshman Alexa Lazarus said.

UNC doesn't want to charge students for using the Internet for academics, only for personal usage like Facebook, online gaming and streaming video, Barker said. Trying to determine what's personal and what's for class is difficult, though, he said.

A student could be downloading movies from Netflix, for example, to watch for a class assignment. So, Barker said officials plan to consult with student government.

The committee that suggested the Internet fee estimated that at least a third of student usage is personal, which would mean a fee of $40 to $60 a year for each student.

"I think it's going to be way too hard to actually figure out what Internet usage is personal," Lazarus said, adding that 80 percent of her online time is for classwork.

"Probably 70 percent of my Internet usage is, like, going to school and things that I have to do in the first place," Clover said. "I would say it just depends on the person, so it would be hard to see where that boundary is."

Barker said officials plan to evaluate what existing technology fees are used for to determine if they could be shifting to cover network maintenance costs. If UNC does institute an Internet fee for students, university funds would cover the remainder of the network costs.

"Are they going to have a separate fee for garbage disposals and things like that?" Mohr asked. "It just doesn't make sense."