re: Can Colleges Tame The Bandwidth Monster?
I understand the quantitative challenges for educational institutions trying to keep up with the ever more wasteful and self indulgent uses of bandwidth that seem to be endemic in our society. However, I think you are missing the opportunity to qualitatively challenge the assumption that your job is to stay ahead of the curve of endless waste that seems to drive commercial uses of the Internet and cellular technologies rather than trying to instill a sense of social responsibility in a generation suffering mightily from "connection entitlement".
Like the dramatic reductions in costs of hardware that have driven endless cycles of bloated programming and frivolous GUIs in previous decades, the fall in costs of internet bandwidth and cellular capacity in recent years has spawned various innovations designed to clog the infrastructure of the internet with a wealth of dubious self generated (and generally self absorbed) content that costs almost nothing to produce and is not worth a great deal more than that in the grand scheme of arts and entertainment. It has also driven the fragmentation of mass distribution models for legitimate media content like music, television and movies to the point where a television or radio program that used to be broadcast efficiently to millions of households is now broadcast in duplicate millions of times through file downloads and streaming services which clog the commercial arteries of our digital infrastructure in the name of mindless convenience for viewers bent on having endless options and micromanagement control over their entertainment experience. And in the process, the "haves" of our society who can afford to "custom pipe" their entertainment in via the internet have begun to threaten the economic structures of commercially sponsored radio and television which have provided the "have nots" with cheap mass access to news and entertainment for over 90 years.
If our institutions of higher education cannot start a meaningful dialogue as to the social utility of students sharing a "cute puppy" video with 15 "friends" via smartphone that incidentally drops somebody else's 911 call from their local cell tower, I fear that nobody left in society will be able to do it. Certainly, the progress of society requires efforts like you mention to make the most efficient use of available bandwidth in a technical sense, but I think it is also time that the best and brightest of the next generation pull their heads out of Facebook and YouTube long enough to think about how our use of the internet has been evolving as a society and whether an institution committed to knowledge, be it small college or major research university, should be in an endless race with its students to support the latest and greatest dumbed down ways to use a distribution channel of great potential and purpose.
As you well know, a student can access a semester's worth of text books using a lot less bandwidth than watching a 35 second video of a fraternity belching contest, or perform hours of research using remote databases for the bandwidth required to file share one bootleg feature film. From a management standpoint, I suppose one answer would be to lock down the institutionally provided systems for legitimate academic uses, and to allow those students who could afford it to access their entertainment in whatever ways they desired in the existing wasteful and competitive capitalist system. As someone who could not afford his own TV in the 1970s, I would guess that this would be a way to provide the less advantaged students with a way to excel in comparison to their more entitled counterparts. However, I think you sell the cause of higher education short by assuming that bandwidth is only a technical problem to be solved in a seamless and invisible way to be sure that existing students don't post negative comments about your IT infrastructure that will deter future admissions. There is a social dialogue waiting to be had on this subject, and if people in academic settings are not able to start it, I have little faith that the forces who have harnessed the internet to broadcast "stupid human tricks" and the venture capitalists who support the inventors of the "next great self indulgent thing" will ever broach the subject with the leaders of our next generation.