Faced with an overburdened WiFi network that inhibited student access during classes, Purdue University has decided to block Netflix and other popular streaming video sites in all of its academic buildings on the West Lafayette, Ind., campus.
The Chicago Tribune reports that the university acted after some faculty complained that the network had become so slow that academic applications were unusable during class.
“There’s a finite amount of bandwidth available,” says Mark Sonstein, the university’s executive director of information technology infrastructure. “If you have people who are streaming a movie, then they are consuming all of the available bandwidth.”
Purdue started last fall by blocking Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Pandora, iHeartRadio, the gaming platform Steam and Apple software updates in a few large lecture halls; then it expanded the ban to several academic buildings.
This week, students have returned from spring break, and the policy went campuswide. Student centers, residence halls and common areas of academic buildings are exempt. Purdue’s other campuses in Indiana are not affected by the new policy.
So far, university officials say they haven’t received any complaints.
“I heard about the bandwidth problem, but when the solution was implemented, I heard crickets,” says Steve Beaudoin, a chemical engineering professor whose building was one of the first to block streaming sites.
Purdue appears to be one of the first colleges in the nation to resort to this kind of technological barrier, even though it’s common in secondary schools and corporate offices
One institution that has curtailed online access is the law school at the University of Chicago. Since 2008, it has shut off WiFi in the classroom wing to encourage student attention and engagement.
Professor Saul Levmore says the blocked access has become an accepted norm among students, though with today’s smartphones capable of acting as internet hot spots, “if they want to check Wikipedia or something, they can do so.”
Purdue decided to take action after a study found that only 4 percent of its traffic was academic, and 34 percent was consumed by streaming services and gaming.
The problem became so extreme that Purdue students sometimes had difficulty turning in their homework online or using apps designed for the classroom, Sonstein says.
“We have a system here where students can answer questions (electronically), and professors can collect answers and then talk them through,” he says. “A professor would decide not to use it because they can’t rely on the bandwidth.”