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Texas Community College Blocks Access to MySpace - Will VoIP Be Next?
[April 24, 2006]

Texas Community College Blocks Access to MySpace - Will VoIP Be Next?


TMCnet Associate Editor
 
The teen website MySpace.com is apparently starting to fall victim to its own popularity.

According to a recent AP report, administrators at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas have decided to block student access to the popular online Anglosphere – not because of questionable activities on the site, but rather due to the strain it’s putting on the school’s local network.



August Alfonso, Del Mar’s chief of technology, told the AP that roughly 40 percent of the community college’s daily internet traffic is directed to MySpace – and that heavy use by the schools’ approximately 11,000 students has resulted in sluggish broadband speeds on school computers. School officials say the strain on bandwidth is interfering with web-based instruction, which is increasingly becoming vital to college curriculum.

According to August, school computers spent a collective total of 229 hours of Internet browsing at MySpace in just one 24-hour period in April (however, the AP report did not indicate how many users there were during this period).


MySpace, which now boasts more than 72 million registered users, is a social networking website which offers user profiles, photos, videos, blogs, group chat, music downloads and an internal e-mail system.

Students at Del Mar have been informed that if they wish to access the site, they will have to do it outside of the college’s network. Student reaction has reportedly been mixed, with some students saying that blocking access isn’t fair, while others point to the benefit of removing what is potentially a major distraction from the campus setting.

The bandwidth problem partly stems from the fact that MySpace.com is heavily used for downloading and uploading video and music clips. Such activities, particularly during peak-use periods, can sap a network of available bandwidth and result in slower access speeds. The site just recently started offering video.

Del Mar is not the first educational institution to block access to MySpace.com. In January, a Catholic school in New Jersey made headlines by prohibiting students from using MySpace, even at home (although experts questioned the legality of such a ban). It is well documented that many public high schools and libraries are now starting to restrict access to MySpace and similar sites as well.

Evidence of such blocking becomes apparent when one considers the preponderance of proxy sites on the Internet promising to unblock access to sites such as MySpace. One such proxy site,
www.schoolboredom.com, boldly tells students they can use the site to “surf sites through school filters and firewalls freely to get to sites like MySpace!” Another popular proxy site, http://www.browsespace.com/, promises to “unblock MySpace.”

The move to restrict access to MySpace.com at Del Mar marks just the beginning of such blocking practices by public and quasi-public institutions. Beyond Internet content, it is entirely possible that some institutions might start blocking other forms of bandwidth-intensive communications, such as VoIP, IPTV (News - Alert) and video-on-demand. It is well known that VoIP, video multicasting and video streaming can slow down network speed and performance, and it’s possible that some organizations might see fit to start blocking access to these services in the event they begin to affect the network.

In addition to allegations that MySpace.com is a breeding ground for inappropriate activities (some assert that it is a haven for sexual predators), there have also been criticisms of the website’s overall performance. For one thing, the site’s servers are known to sometimes crash due to huge spikes in traffic. In addition, users frequently complain of pages that don’t load properly – something which is inherent due to the fact that the site’s users create their own pages using HTML and CSS coding. Because most MySpace users are not skilled web developers, this often results in poorly constructed profiles. Such profiles have been known to freeze up web browsers due to malformed coding, or as a result of users placing high bandwidth objects, such as videos and flash, in their profiles.

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Patrick Barnard is Associate Editor for TMCnet and a columnist covering the telecom industry. To see more of his articles, please visit Patrick Barnard’s columnist page.

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