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Internet Filter and YUDorm removed; ITS Plans to Re-Implement a Fully Functioning Filter

After months of frustratingly slow, and at times non-existent, Internet connectivity in the Wilf Campus dormitories and confident assurances from the ITS department that the newly installed filter was not responsible for the struggles, ITS removed the filter two weeks ago when a glitch caused it to deny access to perfectly permissible websites.

On Sunday night December 2nd, students trying to access the Internet were prevented by the filter from connecting to their desired websites. The next day, ITS removed the filter and placed the dorms under the YUWireless network, which provides Wi-Fi to the rest of the campus. In an e-mail to students later in the week, Vice President and Chief Information Officer Marc Milstein described the nature of the problem and laid out the department’s plan going forward. He explained that the most recent problem- YUDorm denying access to permissible websites- was “due to software on the filter which became corrupted.”

With respect to the stubborn connectivity woes that bedeviled students all semester, Mr. Milstein conceded that the problems were related to the filter, but implied that the issues were peripheral to the filter itself and left open the possibility of the filter being re-installed. The e-mail stated that the recent issues “were related to the fact that the internet filter required specific user hardware/software configurations,” but suggested that the issues could be rectified and the filter re-instated, pledging that “ITS is exploring other technologies to address Internet Filtering which minimizes impact to the student and the student devices.”

Mr. Milstein confirmed these points to The Commentator, maintaining that “technically the filter was always functional.” He attributed the connectivity issues to students “connecting to YUDorm after connecting to YUWireless and travelling around campus.” He also confirmed that the “filtering design is being re-engineered,” though the new design may not involve a network named YUDorm. In terms of a timetable for the new filtering device, the goal is for the software to be complete by the beginning of next year, but certain “critical phrases” should be in place by next semester.

Despite assurances that the filter can be successfully re-integrated, the decision to re-implement it after months of aggravation has been met with skepticism by students. Michael Heino, (YC ’13) who brought the issue to President Joel’s attention at a town hall event, expressed surprise saying, “If there is even the slightest indication that replacing the filter will harm the bandwidth available for students to use at night, then it should not be replaced.” YCSA President Adam Neuman, (YC ’13) emphasizing the essential role Wi-Fi access plays in a student’s education, echoed that sentiment, saying the University “should not reinstall the filter until they are positive it will not disconnect users who are simply trying to finish their assignments."

The announcement this past spring that that the Internet in the dormitories would block access to pornographic content gave rise to a spirited debate, with some students extolling ridding the dorms of morally and halakhically objectionable material and others decrying the move as an intrusive invasion into the personal life of students. But the conversation regarding YUDorm no longer takes the form of differing opinions about its propriety, instead focusing on a question being asked, often with frustration and impatience, by nearly everyone: When will the Internet in the dorms finally work properly and allow for the smooth connectivity needed by students?

Just weeks into the semester, students approached Student Life Committee Co-Chairmen Eli Shavalian (YC ’14) and Mordechai Czarka (YC ’13) to express their frustration over not being able to connect to YUDorm. Shavalian and Czarka relayed the students’ concerns to YU’s Information Technology Services Department (ITS), headed by Milstein. The connectivity issues, according to the Student Life Committee, were originally diagnosed by ITS as an underestimation of the bandwidth that the dorms required to meet the needs of student residents. Simply adding bandwidth, the department supposed, would solve the connectivity issues and allow students to access the internet. According to the Student Life Committee, the bandwidth increases were implemented before Sukkot break in October.

But students returned from vacation only to find that the frustrating internet woes persisted even after the ITS department had increased the bandwidth capabilities of YUDorm. After learning that the previous steps had not rectified the connectivity challenges, the Student Life Committee again met with ITS to re-express the concerns of students. ITS then began searching for the source of the problems and considered the possibility that the filter was obstructing connectivity. But after conducting a series of evaluations, ITS ruled out the filter as the source of the problems, a point that it emphasized in an e-mail sent to students on November 25th.

In that same e-mail, signed by Marc Spear, Senior Director of Student Life, and Sean Cottman, Director of Network Services and Information Security, however, students were informed that an “understanding of the underlying problem” and a “permanent solution” were yet to be achieved..

Shavalian, Czarka, and the rest of the Student Life Committee are extremely sensitive to these concerns but they stressed that ITS is working diligently to restore connectivity. “We have been in constant communication with ITS and they’re working on a solution to this issue,” said Shavalian. As a testament to the diligent efforts of ITS, he noted that “they’ve been in the offices until 1 AM, monitoring the issue. They’re not just putting in 9 to 5.” Czarka stressed that this issue is important to them and “it’s not just being brushed under the table.”