Internet Aficionados Cost CSUN a Bundle : Education: University stops picking up surging tab for students’ off-campus, on-line research.


Cal State Northridge has learned a lesson painfully familiar to many parents: If you give a college student a credit card, be prepared for a pain in the wallet.

College administrators could contemplate that lesson while writing a check for their telephone bill: $271,623 since April.

If it’s any comfort, the students apparently ran up the bill in the pursuit of knowledge, their assigned role in life, and broke no rules.

It all began after the Northridge quake severely damaged the campus.


“None of our computer labs were functional. . . . We didn’t have any in working order,” said Bruce Erickson, a spokesman for CSUN. He added that hundreds of computers were damaged in the temblor and the computer labs had to be gradually moved into trailers while buildings were being repaired.

The problem: How to maintain student and faculty access to the Internet--a worldwide linkup of university and other computer networks that has become a tool of research.

“We had a large population of people who needed access at a time when we didn’t have facilities on campus to offer,” said Diane Blake, manager of communications services at CSUN.

So the school arranged for students and faculty members, using their home computers, to access the Internet by means of an 800 number that would charge the calls to CSUN, freeing them from the obligation of trying to find a computer terminal, scarce on campus.


“The service was not primarily intended for students initially,” said Blake, but after students realized the convenience of the free service, more and more acquired accounts. At last tally, 8,000 had signed on, Blake said.

“It proved to be an expensive alternative,” Blake said.

The phone bill for Internet access rose from a minimal pre-quake sum to $271,623 for the nine months that students have had access to the service.

Since the free service went into effect in April, the phone bill has risen an average 12% each month. The bill for December, for instance, was $80,411, compared to $11,651 in April.


That’s enough of that, school administrators said Monday.

They have decided to restrict the service to faculty members, and told students who have 800-number accounts that they must return to the computer labs on campus, where the phone bills will be much lower.

Blake said the school was aware that the charges were becoming expensive, but without renovated computer centers officials were unable to cut back the service earlier. As earthquake repairs continue, CSUN is finally comfortable with the computer services it is providing on campus, Erickson said.

“The administration was aware from the beginning of the costs that were involved, but it wasn’t until there was a sufficient alternative that we were prepared to restrict the service,” Blake said.


Administrators say they are not aware of any abuse while the system was in place. A total of 137,180 calls were made and only 3% were out of state, Blake said.