In response to the growing transition to a more technology heavy world, many Carmel High School students have begun to question the school policy of not allowing access to the school’s Wi-Fi network through personal devices.
“The cellular data service at many places in CHS is completely unusable,” senior James Thelen claims, “thus I am stuck with few options, and I must finish my work at home.”
Junior Quincy Hendricks echoes Thelen’s sentiments.
“I don’t even use my phone for emails because it takes so long to load,” he says. “Allowing students to connect via Wi-Fi will surely be a big help to many students.”
When speaking with school officials, two main reasons are cited for the current course of action: bandwidth and security.
Paul Behan, Carmel Unified School District’s chief technology officer, explains that there is a limit to the school’s Internet bandwidth that is shared among all the school and departments. As students and faculty may have noticed on some occasions, the maximum capacity has already been reached at times.
“Adding up to 850 smartphones, and potentially an equal number of computers, would put us over the top of our capacity,” Behan says.
Furthermore, each wireless access point has limits to the number of devices that can connect to it.
“The more devices that connect, the slower everything gets,” Behan sums up.
In addition to bandwidth limitations, however, there are security concerns. Colin Matheson, the district’s technology professional development coordinator, explains this reasoning.
“The issue with security is anything that’s on our network increases the risk of being hacked maliciously or unintentionally and getting access to the school’s network,” Matheson notes.
Behan supports this position.
“We can protect the network better on devices that we control—and even that is a full-time job,” he adds. “Our goal is to provide as much stability and security as we can.”
Matheson does note that there are methods of increasing the security on the network to protect the integrity of the system.
Behan is careful to note that the school’s limitations in bandwidth and Wi-Fi capacity are the primary factors in keeping access restricted, but another issue arises when looking at the overall construction of the current Wi-Fi network.
“All network devices in the world have a network chip with a unique identifier,” Matheson informs. “It’s called the hardware address or the media access control address. Then we only allow student chromebooks that we’ve purchased with specific IDs that we know on the student network. We have to log in every single chromebook individually.”
Student concern has been raised over the current status due to recent problems with the Wi-Fi.
“The data service is absolutely terrible,” senior Alexander Myers says. “Many times I can’t even send or receive emails because it will simply never load.”
Per Behan, AT&T inadvertently cut the school connection to less than 20 percent of what it was supposed to be, prompting conversations with the internet provider to fix the problems. Even before the cut, however, student and teachers were experiencing slower network speeds and failures. While Behan explains that the school is working to remedy those areas, he does explain the reason for the issues in some areas.
“There are also a few wings that have older network switches with lower connection speeds,” Behan says. “We have a plan to replace these over time, but it will be a multi-year process because it is very expensive.”
Another aspect of this issue is one concerning the privacy of school network users.
“It’s something that you should always be thinking about when you use digital tools,” Matheson says. “Any personal device on the network is subject to school rules.” If students are on the Wi-Fi with personal devices, their Internet access will be filtered and everything will be logged.
It is important to note that while school chromebooks can be seized at any time to be searched, personal devices have constitutional rights that protect privacy.
While Principal Rick Lopez and Matheson both remain optimistic that a change could come in future years, Behan does make clear that currently such a move would raise more problems than it solves.