Q. What is the current bandwidth management policy at AU?
At AU we have applied a number of firewalling and network security policies designed to protect our network from intrusion and to assure maximum efficiency. Among the policies we have implemented is the blocking of access to certain "peer-to-peer" file-sharing services that are widely used to facilitate the exchange of files (most commonly music and movies) between desktop PCs over the Internet without the intermediation of a server. This document explains the rationale for this policy and our approach to implementing it.
Q. Does this policy affect every type of network use?
No, it only affects a few specific peer-to-peer services. Most other forms of network access, including the retrieval of pages from web servers and the downloading of files through standard file transfer techniques, are not affected.
Q. What are the reasons for this policy?
Our current policy is based on three considerations:
Bandwidth Issues. AU has limited network capacity and it is our responsibility to guard this resource and preserve it for the highest priority uses, particularly instruction and administration. Most colleges that have provided high-bandwidth network access to residence halls have reported very high utilization of those connections (sometimes over 90%), primarily because of extensive use of file-sharing services. We have already on a number of occasions come close to saturating our network connection, even with controls in place. Given our limited resources at this time, we have decided to place recreational uses of the network at a lower priority.
Legal Issues. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) contains strong language protecting the rights of copyright owners. Under the terms of that legislation, any organization hosting infringing materials is subject to legal action and fines if it refuses to cooperate in the restriction of activity that results in the illegal use of copyrighted material, which includes the exchange of music and movie files made possible by the file sharing programs we are blocking. The companies that own the copyrights to this material were instrumental in getting the DMCA passed are now aggressively asserting their ownership rights. Services are now available to the major music labels that can locate infringing files on student machines, resulting in legal challenges to the universities hosting these machines. There have been numerous cases recently in which universities have received notices of these violations invoking the DMCA and demanding that the infringing material be removed. Although the legal complexities of these issues have not yet been thoroughly worked out in legislation and the courts, but we have decided to follow the example of other universities and restrict this activity until the legal issues have been clarified.
Security Issues. Most file-sharing programs work by opening up individual desktop machines to access by outside users, the local PC in effect becoming a server. This exposes the desktop machine to a variety of potential security issues, including the theft of personal data, the implanting of viruses, and the concealed installation of hostile programs. One reason for controlling access to these services is to protect student machines, and by extension other computers on the AU network, from these kinds of risks.
Q. Are there any alternatives to access blocking?
A large percentage of colleges and universities are now using port blocking to control peer-to-peer file sharing. Several other techniques are also in use. Some institutions have purchased additional bandwidth, although this alone did not always solve the problem. Increasingly institutions are installing bandwidth shaping equipment, which imposes limits on certain services at certain times of day for certain users, which helps protect the network from saturation. Other solutions include imposing bandwidth limits on individual students and charging students a fee for Internet access based on their bandwidth usage.
Q. Is AU likely to change its access bandwidth management policies any time soon?
Our policies are designed to reflect current conditions. As those conditions change, we will review our policies accordingly, consistent with the goals of the university and subject to the availability of financial resources.