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IPTV bypasses antiquated system, adds new channels

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Can’t fit that 40-inch flat screen TV in your Wriston double? Internet Protocol Television, a new $60,000 pilot program available in dorms this fall, gives students the option of viewing cable television over the Internet.

The project began as a response to student dissatisfaction with the University’s antiquated cable network.

“The cable infrastructure is in terrible shape,” said David Greene, vice president for campus life and student services.

Greene said the University had to decide whether to lay an entirely new set of cables or move in a different direction, such as IPTV.

The service will be available for the duration of the fall semester, after which the Undergraduate Council of Students, Computing and Information Services and the Office of Campus Life and Student Services will gauge student reaction and decide whether to continue the project.

If adopted, the IPTV system has the potential to provide academic enrichment as well as entertainment, said UCS president Brian Bidadi ’06. Although the current system does not enable students to record programs, this service could become available within the next year. Professors would be able to record TV programs and post them online for their students, and academic departments would be able to request channels to complement department offerings.

The computer network, unlike the elderly cable system, has excess capacity and “is really underutilized,” said Zac Townsend ’08, who spearheaded the project as chair of the UCS Admission and Student Services Committee.

Bidadi stressed the convenience of the IPTV system. Watching TV on a computer is great for students with roommates because viewers can wear headphones and turn up the volume, he said. IPTV also allows students to watch multiple channels at once, he said. IPTV does not require buffering like other Internet video but instead plays instantaneously like regular TV.

In addition, “just about every student comes to Brown with a computer… not every student comes to Brown with a television,” Greene said.

The IPTV system currently serves as a supplement to the regular cable network and does not offer network channels like NBC and CBS. But the expectation is that IPTV, which is capable of offering many more channels than the traditional cable system, will soon become the primary source for television in residential halls.

The regular cable network currently offers eight channels, whereas IPTV currently offers 16, 11 of which are new to Brown and four of which were added in response to a UCS poll taken last spring. The most popular requests were for the Cartoon Network, now available on both traditional cable and IPTV, followed by Fox News, TBS, and USA.

In the future the University may be able to offer tiered programming, through which students could order premium networks like HBO in addition to the other cable channels, for a small monthly fee, Bidadi said.

According to Bidadi, student feedback so far has been 90 percent positive. “Everyone in my dorm loves it,” said Keeney resident Daniel Sobol ’09.

“I wish that there were more channels, but I’ll definitely be watching Dawson’s Creek on my computer from here on out,” said Sara Epstein ’08.

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