Even though his school and job is virtual, Mykel Brinkerhoff still commutes.
Brinkerhoff lives in UC Santa Cruz’s Family Student Housing (FSH) with his wife and daughter. While he juggles being a graduate student and a TA, he has to venture to Rachel Carson College (RCC) because of FSH’s poor internet connection.
“When I was young, in order to get cable you had these really old coax cables that have these little prongs that you have to plug in just right so it doesn’t break,” Brinkerhoff said. “That’s what [FSH] internet is.”
The current internet infrastructure at FSH is over 20 years old. Brinkerhoff has struggled with navigating virtual space this year, and he is one of the 430 residents.
According to UCSC’s Information Technology Services (ITS) website, FSH and ITS are set to perform an installation of fiber optic cables, replacing its dated cabling to provide high speed internet, along with the installation of copper cables and wireless access throughout the FSH residence by March 31. This, according to FSH, will make the internet faster and more reliable.
“The [new] coaxial cabling is distributed to each unit by approximately 20 consolidation points at utility closets and cabling run into each housing unit,” said UCSC’s ITS Foundation Products Director, Bill Storey in an email. “In each housing unit, cable modems with wireless routers are connected similar to a residential service from a commercial provider such as Comcast.”
FSH began providing rooms in RCC as workspaces on a first-come, first-served basis at the start of fall 2020, said Associate Director of Affiliated Residential Community Housing Elissa Sato. People living in FSH can work from these rooms and use the comparatively stable Wi-Fi and return back to their houses in the evening.
At the start of the pandemic, FSH began providing hotspots and modems for students and family members to use.
“Each household was given a device (LTE modem, then LTE hotspot) to use the cellular signal for network access in a tiered roll-out starting in late April 2020,” said Sato in an email. “Families were informed that they can use eduroam [the campus Wi-Fi], accessible outside the FSH Office and within the Community Room. Families were also provided with an alternative internet access location at Rachel Carson College starting approximately mid-November 2020.”
Brinkerhoff said the internet provided by these hotspots was not suitable for a remote work schedule.
“Usually I’m doing my research and stuff like that at home, on my hotspot,” Brinkerhoff said. “But even then the service is really spotty sometimes, especially on Zoom.”
There were previous proposed plans for upgrading the current infrastructure, however these plans were abandoned because the campus’s larger vision was to demolish FSH altogether and rebuild it as part of the Student Housing West (SHW) project. Due to a lawsuit filed against the university regarding the environmental concerns of the project, SHW was put on hold and must reapprove construction plans with the UC Regents, meaning that FSH’s renewal date is undetermined.
With funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, FSH announced in November that they were going to begin upgrading the internet starting mid-January. Storey said the FSH infrastructure upgrade will cost $507,516, to be paid off over five years.
The installation of new copper cabling in residential buildings began on Jan. 28, and was expected to take approximately five weeks. FSH informed residents that the Wi-Fi should improve and that work on the buildings would be completed by March.
With the less than ideal internet in a virtual world, Brinkerhoff and the rest of the residents at FSH patiently await the upgrade.
“[FSH has] a responsibility to take care of all of its students,” Brinkerhoff said. “We should have housing, we should have those amenities which make it so we could even have a basic living.”