UC Shuts Down CampusLink’s Free Public Internet Access

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 18, 2008 - 09:22:00 AM

UC Berkeley’s CampusLink computer terminals, which provide free public Internet access at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union across from Sproul Plaza, were abruptly shut down by the university, CampusLink officials said Wednesday. 

Bill Haynor, CEO of CampusLink, said that university officials had refused to let CampusLink representatives fix a couple of broken computers around Labor Day weekend and had expressed concern about nonstudents using the technology. 

“I am in discussion with them to try to get this resolved,” he said. “One of the issues was that it’s a public open space being used by nonstudents who tend to sit there and take up a lot of time on the computer. I think the university was not happy with that. We have been at UC Berkeley for seven years, but this is the first time they shut us down.” 

The university recently raided the Longhaul Infoshop—which also has free public Internet access—on Shattuck Avenue, and seized 15 computers in search of the source of threatening e-mails targeted at UC Berkeley researchers experimenting on animals. 

Haynor said the university had not elaborated on its decision to shut down the CampusLink computers but had hinted that students were using them to surf pornography sites. 

“They just were not specific,” he said. “One of the things they have asked us is to provide more security for our computers so students can’t access porn. We were going to install a whole new security system. It still allows free Internet access but blocks spam.” 

Calls to Nad Permaul, director of the Associate Students of the University of California Auxiliary, and Officer Mitch Celaya, spokesperson for the UC Berkeley Police Department, were not returned by press time. 

The university, Haynor said, had also expressed concerns about “vagrants” coming in and vandalizing the second floor of the MLK Jr. Student Union, where the terminals were located. 

“They said that homeless people were urinating and stuffing their duffle bags in there,” he said. “We have a contract with the school. Our advertisers pay for the units, and we pay rent to the university for the space. I told the university that they need to have some kind of control over the space. That’s when they brought up the issue about nonstudents using the space. It’s hard say what the university is trying to accomplish here. This is the only school we have had a problem with so far.” 

CampusLink has centers in over 30 private and public college campuses all over the country—including UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University and Purdue—where students and visitors can surf the Internet, check e-mail, pick up newspapers and brochures, sample products and learn about promotions and events sponsored by their school and CampusLink partners. 

CampusLink advertisers and sponsors—which include numerous local businesses in Berkeley and around the Bay Area—provide discounts to students, who can call the merchants free of charge from the terminals. The San Francisco Chronicle—which has its masthead embossed on one of the terminals in the Student Union Building—has also sponsored the service in the past, Haynor said. The free Internet is provided by CampusLink. 

“I wanted the units up and running before students came back,” Haynor said. “I am upset, because we want to provide the service to people. We want to be there. We still have a contract with the university, It needs to do something about this.” 

Haynor isn’t the only one who’s disappointed by the university’s actions. 

James Reagan, a homeless advocate who frequents nearby People’s Park, said he was suprised to find that he couldn’t access his e-mails on CampusLink anymore. 

“For myself and others, it was a quicker way to look up something without trudging down to the library,” he said Tuesday. “The terminals at the Student Union Building are for everyone, and one person has made that decision to shut them down ... I think the advertisers are being misrepresented.” 

Reagan said he believed that the university had shut down CampusLink during the summer to prevent a handful of gamers who were able to “override the system” and play computer games for a longer time than allowed by the 20-minute time period programmed for user access. 

Reagan, who now uses the Bear Facts Terminal in Sproul Hall, said the university had put up a sign warning gamers that the computers at Sproul Hall were for UC Berkeley students, prospective students and their parents only. 

“But the masses found their way to Sproul Hall and continued to utilize these computers for their gaming pleasure,” he said. 

Calls to the university’s IT department and Peter J. Quintin, director of the MLK Student Union, part of the Associated Students of the University of California Auxiliary, were not returned. A campus spokesperson told the Planet that the IT department was dealing with campuswide computer problems Wednesday. 

Not too many students, however, seemed bothered that CampusLink had stopped working. 

“Most people play video games on them anyway,” said Torab Torabi, a UC Berkeley sophomore who was studying across from the CampusLink terminals Tuesday afternoon. “No one’s being deprived of their human rights.” 

For more information on CampusLink visit: www.campuslink.org.