Cell phones replace campus service

Lindsay Shoff

The new school year greeted residents in University dorms with a new on-campus phone system this year, one that no longer allows dialing off campus with an authorization code.

Students may only use their dorm phones to make on-campus calls using extensions, or to dial off campus via a toll free number, such as a prepaid phone card number.

Robert Mays, director of network and communications in UNIT, explained the reason for the change: “Almost 90 percent of on-campus phone traffic went down,” he said.

Mays said the reason for the dramatic decrease in dorm phone use is a combination of the availability and convenience of cell phones, e-mails and instant messenger.

“When you leave class, I’m sure you see people immediately call someone from their cell phone,” he said.

Some students have voiced their concerns over their inability to use their dorm phones.

Sophomore Liz Bell said, “I think it’s annoying. I don’t get any reception in my dorm [so I cannot make phone calls from my room].”

“Also, it’s a long distance call now from my cell phone if I want to call Campus Corner,” she added.

In a spring 2003 study done by the Office of Planning, Training and Institutional Research, surveying on-campus student residents, out of the 90 percent of University students who owned a cell phone, almost all used their mobiles to communicate often to friends and family. Only about 25 percent used “traditional phones.”

Mays began plans to update the almost 12-year-old phone system long before the summer, when students were informed of the change through letters sent home.

Two Villanovan articles, in October 2003 and January 2004, alluded to or outlined the upcoming changes.

“We had really been promoting this, but I guess it falls on deaf ears until it actually happens,” said Mays.

Mays said the overall plans for the on-campus system include having an “emergency phone” for each floor of a residence hall. Larger dorms, like Stanford, would carry one phone per wing.

“There are still some Public Safety concerns,” he noted. “We are going to have the dial tone feature in each room for at least two more years, until summer 2006.”

Mays said UNIT’s move toward an increasingly wireless campus is based on statistics.

“We’re moving toward a wireless society,” he said. “Ten percent of American households use completely wireless devices.”

To that end, the University surveyed students and their families to find out who was responsible for students’ cell phone bills and what prices those responsible for the bill were willing to pay.

The survey showed that 75 percent of parents paid their sons and daughters’ cell phone bills, while only nine percent of students paid for their own charges.

“We had to market to the parents because it is just as much a matter to them,” Mays said.

Two years ago, Mays and his team entertained five cellular phone companies to hear their offers for a University plan.

Cingular came out on top, offering the best deal and coverage area for the University.

Currently, the University has three Cingular cell towers: one permanent site on Stanford and two temporary on West campus and at the maintenance building. UNIT plans to replace the two temporary sites on West with two more permanent ones at Bartley Hall and St. Clare Hall on West campus.

Junior Lizzie Hetzer noted, “Although there is now a signal for Cingular users, many students are locked into two year contracts with other service providers, which may offer better service in their home towns or better plans.”