There were, at last count, 198 colleges and universities across the United States that have banned Napster, the wildly popular MP3-swapping software, from their networks. More and more colleges are adding their names to the list every day, complaining that students are hogging all the campus bandwidth by downloading the latest Korn songs day and night.
An ad hoc organization of students called Students Against University Censorship (SAUC) has been actively working in boxes across the Net, sending out digital petitions and campaigning against the ban -- to little avail, thus far. But this week, SAUC got its best weapon yet, and from a most unusual source: a business software company called Lightspeed Systems, which says that it has a solution to the bandwidth problem. Universities don't have to ban Napster from their networks, says Lightspeed. All they need to do is buy a copy of "QoS Control for e-Business," a traffic management tool for networks.
Although Lightspeed released QoS Control in January as a bandwidth management tool for Internet service providers, large companies and other networks, the company realized its potential gold mine just a few weeks ago and has been busily repositioning the software ever since. After reading newspaper articles in which universities complained that there "was no other option" but to block Napster altogether, Lightspeed began a P.R. campaign to inform the schools that there is, indeed, an alternative.
For $3,495 per hub, QoS Control lets universities manage their bandwidth on a dorm-by-dorm -- or even room-by-room -- basis. By tracking applications and individual users on a network, QoS Control lets systems administrators regulate the amount of bandwidth each individual can use; or limit the total amount of network bandwidth for Napster usage to, say, 5 percent; or limit the hours that Napster is accessible.
QoS Control product manager Aaron Heber says that five universities have already signed up for QoS Control, and a dozen more have expressed interest. Lightspeed, in turn, is thrilled to have a sexy way to promote its otherwise dry (albeit useful) software to new clients. And universities aren't the only institutions putting their stamp of approval on Lightspeed's solution: SAUC has also publicly endorsed Lightspeed.
"SAUC believes that by giving limited access to Napster, as well as education on how to use the product responsibly, the universities can solve their bandwidth problem as well as teach the students how to become responsible 'Internet citizens,'" explains SAUC founder Chad Paulson, a sophomore at Indiana University.
After all, limiting student access to Napster is more agreeable to MP3-hungry students than banning the software outright. "At least we have an alternative," says Heber. "It doesn't have to [allow students] to do whatever they want, regardless of bandwidth. There's compromise required, but people would rather take that than be completely blocked."