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2013 Fall Issue 8 (November 15, 2013)

Considering the Value of a Dollar: Perplexed by the Bald Spot WiFi Proposal

November 15, 2013
By Claire Kelloway

 Relative to the rest of the world, Carleton has a warped understanding of value. In the past week alone I have heard people call international flight fares "relatively cheap" and $40 shoes a "steal," and others agreed. There are few other places on this planet where these statements could pass as reasonable. Regardless of your level of privilege, the fact that we are American college students already puts all of us in a relatively privileged position, and I find that this twists how we justify and interpret costs. This mentality manifests most clearly in relation to the recent proposal to bring WiFi to the Bald Spot.

When I first heard about the $15,0000 proposal, I laughed. Surely people would not be interested in this. Surely no one would think that the ability to check Facebook on your smart phone, or surf the web outdoors for maybe six weeks of the year was worth $15,000. Surely no one give up the value of 135,000 meals through Feeding America, or about half a year’s income for the average male above 25, so that they could avoid going inside to any other building on campus for WiFi. And then I heard the approval rating was 9 to 10 in favor.

I understand that on the surface, the proposal sounds reasonable. The money is supposedly already in the ITS budget, and borne across the student body the expense is a bit more than $7 per student. But I think more people need to sit down and considering if the returns from this privileged perk are really worth the price tag. What is the value of having WiFi on the Bald Spot? That ability to do homework outside for the few weeks that it is warm? When WiFi exists everywhere else, can we justify spending so much for a few extra acres of access? In my mind, the marginal benefits of increasing our WiFi range to the Bald Spot do not come anywhere near the marginal costs, given the limited use and existing alternatives. Thus, in this instance, and generally, I feel that many Carleton students fail to contextualize the true value of large lump sums. It can be hard to realize just how much money a figure represents when we are surrounded by massive monetary sums in various contexts. So while the idea of more WiFi seems pleasant, we need to think about what we are actually getting for our money.

Even if the funds have to stay within the ITS budget, I think there are many more valuable uses. $15,000 could provide 150 students with the latest Microsoft Office Suite, or buy over a thousand new Ethernet cables. It could be used to improve our current WiFi in places that students use more frequently. Buildings like Watson are notorious for their poor signals, and connection for this residence hall would reach more students and could be used year round. These are only a few possibilities, and I am sure a more knowledgeable committee would be happy to find plenty more beneficial and productive uses for $15,000.

I also wish students considered the value inherent in a WiFi free Bald Spot. There is something to be gained from a green communal space where we can forget about homework, and bring our faces out of our phones for a few minutes. Also, if you really want to spend all day outside and must get some work done, is it not hard to print a reading. In addition, Internet access can actually become a distraction from work. I often seek out places where there isn’t WiFi so I am forced to focus, and the outdoors is one of them. Internet access means more excuses to get sucked into screens and lost on another BuzzFeed top 20 list. Did I mention that Bald Spot WiFi also demands a new permanent structure be built in the vicinity? Lets keep the Bald Spot "bald," thank you. In many ways, bringing WiFi to the Bald Spot has implicit costs on top of the monetary fee that further winnow its worth.

Despite all this, I am sure there are some students who do truly believe that the addition is worth $15,000. They can argue that it is one time fee that many will be able utilize, or an experience worth paying for, and they have a right to their personal preference. But, I have a hard time believing that these people make up 90% of the student body. I would hope that if more people seriously considered the value of $15,000 (and a green commons without a new tower) versus the value of having WiFi on the Bald Spot, there would be more doubt about the proposal. I think the main issue is that people are only considering the conclusion and severely undervaluing the cost. I merely ask that we take a moment of communal cost-benefit analysis, and reconsider the value of a dollar, before signing onto another frivolous project.

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