The University of New Mexico-provided internet service at the Student Family Housing (SFH) apartment complex will be terminated in July 2020 — leaving residents to pay for their own internet.
SFH is an off-campus UNM Resident Life and Student Housing complex of 200 apartments designed specifically for "UNM students, both undergraduate and graduate, with spouses, domestic partners or families," according to the UNM housing website.
According to an internal survey conducted by the SFH community, most of the residents at SFH are graduate students and are employed by the University as teaching assistants or graduate assistants.
"Installing the same internet capabilities as exist on main campus is prohibitively expensive and could result in much higher rates for the current tenants," said a transcript of the Nov. 6 meeting between UNM Residence Life and Student Housing and UNM IT with a self-organized group of SFH residents.
The internet at SFH was previously supplied by UNM through a third party — Satellite Warehouse — but the internet was slow and often dropped connection for long periods of time, according to SFH residents.
"This spring my wife was taking a class... and midterm week it cut out for two days," said Hunter Esmiol, the open committee chair for the SFH community association and a UNM graduate student and employee.
"We’ve had people who said that they have dropped entire semesters because they were online and single parents and they couldn’t leave," Esmiol said. "We have professors, teaching assistants and graduate assistants who can’t grade assignments because they can’t upload on time."
A previous solution from UNM housing was to provide the residents with new modems, but service after these modems were delivered became worse, with larger periods of "down-time" where the internet was not available at all, according to Esmiol and the survey.
As a response to the inconsistencies of the SFH internet, UNM housing canceled the third-party internet service and encouraged the residents to purchase their own internet plans. This is being facilitated by giving what amounts to a $30 credit each month for several months to the residents’ bursar accounts. The individual internet coverage will be able to use the coaxial cable infrastructure from the previous service.
According to Anne Turner, a UNM Ph.D. candidate and the communication chair for the SFH community association, the outside internet providers have not been reliable.
"People who were on another provider like Comcast, Xfinity or Centurylink said that they had good or okay speeds, but now more people are getting on the Xfinity and leaving SFH and it's starting to slow down... so there’s an infrastructure problem, we think," Turner said.
Turner also said the $30 credit given to the bursar's accounts "doesn’t even cover the actual cost with taxes" of the most basic Xfinity plan.
Turner emphasized the nature of SFH as serving families and how UNM often is not as responsive to the needs of students with families.
"That isn’t always understood by a University that caters to a freshman living on campus... you’re a single parent and you have to be home with your children, and you do your homework when they’re asleep," Turner said. "If you don’t have the internet to do that, you’re not going to succeed."
"There are some departments that make it a priority," Esmiol said, adding that the community center at SFH has been outfitted with free UNM wifi and computers for residents to use and that many at the University are reaching out to the community to try and find a solution.
"They never had a backup plan. Why hasn’t this been addressed preemptively? There’s been internet issues for years," Esmiol said.
The University has not advised residents of any plans to update the hardware in SFH and has not presented any solutions beyond providing the $30 credit. At the Nov. 6 community meeting, many of the residents' questions were not answered by the housing representatives, as they were still waiting to communicate with Xfinity for technical details.
"They keep telling us that in order to get hardware to all the buildings, it’s two million dollars. UNM is telling students that it’s a money issue when we’re the ones paying tuition," Esmiol said. "As a student, when that is kind of the currency of the University, it's like we were set up to fail."
Colin Peña is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @penyacolin