The I-on Interview
After having received a refreshingly prompt response to my request to meet him, I proceeded to interview the man responsible for administering Wi-Fi to the Manipal and Mangalore campuses of Manipal University. A card on his desk which listed Manipal Values, integrity and transparency in particular, seemed reassuring. Here’s what ensued in an interview with Mr. Sathish Kamath, Assistant Director-IT.
Sir, what does your role as the Assistant Director-IT entail?
As the Assistant director-IT, I’m responsible for administering IT services to the university in the form of infrastructure and solutions. I’m in charge of the Manipal and Mangalore campuses on this front. I report directly to the registrar of Manipal University.
There was an inundation of complaint posts on the Student Council Facebook group about the deteriorating quality of internet services provided by I-on. Several seniors, who have since graduated, commented on these posts saying that similar criticism had been rampant during their time as well. In spite of the apparent lack of improvement, why haven’t we switched to a different service provider?
We have had an engagement with I-on for the past eight years now. Students’ complaints have always been met with a genuine attempt to solve the issue at hand. A reaction plan is instantly designed and implemented. I understand, however, that since the internet is a service being provided, there is always scope for further improvement. We are aware of connectivity issues. The designs of our buildings, especially our hostel blocks, are not Wi-Fi friendly. A new network has been designed to overcome this issue. An action plan is already in place and drastic changes can be expected.
I understand that I-on is slowly evolving to meet the students’ requirements. Instead of waiting for this gradual development, however, why are we not directly opting for a different company which may be able to do a better job in a shorter duration?
We have had a formal engagement with I-on for several years now. There are complicated procedures to break that engagement. Till date, they have been highly co-operative and extremely responsive to our complaints. They have also invested a large amount of infrastructure. They are actively working on the comprehensive action plan at present.
Do you think I-on is being very accommodative with our demands?
Yes, they are very accommodative when it comes to requirements of the students. We, in the administration, are also highly accommodative with our students, starting right from our director. We like to keep everything transparent. It is a service and if it isn’t good, I’ll also agree that it isn’t good. We are for the students, not for I-on. The I-on team and an administrative committee meet regularly to discuss these demands and complaints. In spite of this, if a student still feels his complaint is not being addressed, he can personally talk to me or leave a complaint with my office staff.
You have mentioned an action plan. What issues does this plan address and when will there be notable changes in the quality of service?
There is a plan of action already in place. By the fifteenth of February, a Google server will be put in place which will lead to drastic improvement.
*Proceeds to open the e-mail from I-on containing the plan. Several issues are listed, with an expected date of completion and current status. An overshot deadline is spotted to which he points out his prompt response to I-on on the very matter.
As you can see in the plan, several issues have been addressed. From helpdesks at KC, to the improvement of router quality and number at ninth block we have made an attempt to include all issues that had been brought up on the meeting held on 28 October 2015. Certain parts of the plan have already been implemented. For example, the I-on app has been released recently. New wireless access points have been introduced in the ninth block. By the middle of February, a lot of improvement will be visible.
Although there is clearly a plan in place, no updates about the developments have reached the students. The last information we were provided with in this regard were the minutes of the meeting held on 28 October 2015. How can we bridge this disconnect?
I’m open to circulating the current action plan with the students. The previous Student council president was very active in this regard and has met me on several occasions. The current student council members are welcome to come and meet me at any time to discuss this matter and obtain information about the plan of action.
A large majority of the student body has lost faith in meetings like the one held in October. Many claim that no changes have ever come about as a consequence of such meetings. How do you respond to such comments?
We will circulate this action plan and also put it up on the I-on notice board, along with the expected dates of completion, so that the students can observe the changes taking place. This way, there will be complete transparency and they can decide for themselves whether the consequences of the meeting proved useful to them.
Why was there a regressive switch from the 2Mbps to 1Mbps plan?
There was a change in the tax structure. It was a decision made by the management.
Several other institutes in our country have staggering download speeds. Most IIT’s have speeds well over 50Mbps. IIIT Delhi has a download speed well over 500 Mbps. Why are we still struggling with a 1 Mbps speed?
This shouldn’t affect normal browsing much. Do you face any issues due to this?
Often, downloads take an extremely long time. There have been occasions when I’ve left files for downloading overnight. This becomes an issue when some study material, be it a textbook or video content, needs to be urgently downloaded.
We will make an attempt to look into this matter. I’ll bring up this issue at the next meeting.
Another issue students are concerned about is the data limit. What is the need for a data limit? Is there a financial constraint?
Anything given without a limit doesn’t have true value. Some control should be exercised and there should be a certain level of discipline. We want the students to judiciously use the resource. The decision has not been executed from a financial standpoint. I personally feel that 20 GB is enough to meet your academic requirements. Last year, we raised the limit from 15 to 20 GB. If you still feel it needs to be increased, we can always discuss it. Have you faced any difficulty due to the implementation of this limit?
A lot of people are following Massive Open Online courses on websites like Coursera and Edx. Several others regularly use video lectures to complement their coursework. This leads to their crossing the limit before the month ends. Since an additional payment has to be made to access the internet after crossing the preset limit, people wonder whether this is a way to make us pay extra.
There are no such financially motivated intentions behind implementing the data limit. The students seemed happy with the current limit. However, if this is an issue, I will look into it.
Why have only certain blocks been provided LAN facilities?
Blocks 10, 11, 12 and 13 were built with LAN facilities. This was decided by the university before 2006. LAN connections provided don’t have anything to do with I-on as it wasn’t providing its services to the university at the time. With the new connectivity plans, LAN connection in the other blocks may not be necessary. However, if issues persist, we will consider it.
Has any step been taken to improve connectivity in open areas?
Providing better internet connectivity in open areas is a part of the action plan I showed you. The plan has been finalized and cabling work will start by the twenty fifth of January for providing internet access all the way from the academic area to the fifth block.
The Student Council had posted a message saying that those interested in DC++ implementation would be directed to you. Has anyone approached you on this front?
As of now, no student has approached me directly. The plans for DC++ implementation are limited to individual blocks, not the campus in its entirety. This is because a lot of bandwidth will be wasted for peer to peer networking and gaming.
The poor quality of customer service is one of the most serious issues students face. Has this issue been addressed as well?
This aspect is also taken care of by the action plan. Two people have been recruited and a helpdesk has already been set up at KC for your convenience. Twenty four hour support and night shifts will be implemented soon to add to the customer experience.
There is a lot of frustration in the student community regarding I-on. Other than posting their grievances on the student council group, is there an alternative way for students to voice their opinions to the authorities in this regard?
Students are free to leave a complaint with my office staff. They can also talk to the student welfare department. Being a service department, we are open to all forms of suggestions. They can also propose a plan for better communication and regular review meetings.
Is there any message you would like to convey to the students?
There is a strong action plan in place. As the Director himself said, internet is a more essential service than even food in today’s day and age. We are aware of the seriousness of the matter at hand and we are on the job. By February 15, a strong change will be noticeable. The plan will be shared with the students soon.