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Cable TV without the Cable! George Casper Information Services and Resources, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837 Introduction Challenges One particularly unexpected technical challenge arose from our Conclusions & The Future Responding to a request from the Bucknell Student Government, students. Using the VLC media player, they were able to view to The campus community has been generally satisfied with BUTV, and Bucknell University rolled out the BUTV system to the campus in the BUTV multicast streams without purchasing a subscription. This first we plan on continuing to offer the service for the foreseeable future. fall of 2004. During the planning stages, a range of possibilities were Technical While the uptake was not as big as we had originally hoped, there has arose, understandably enough, as a result student curiosity about how reviewed. Most buildings lacked co-axial cable, but every building on • Older Cisco 3500 switches did not support Quality-of- BUTV worked. However, mice will always find the shortest path to been steady growth in the uptake by students. campus had cat-5 cabling to rooms, and fiber-optic connections Service and multicasting to the degree needed the cheese, and once it became common knowledge on how to view We have learned that it is rather painful to implement a brand- between buildings. Therefore, a decision was made to chose IPTV • A bug was discovered in Cisco’s switches leading to poor BUTV though VLC, the draw of “Free TV that you don’t need an new service on short notice; the summer and early Fall of 2004 was a technology instead of adding co-axial cable infrastructure. service expensive set-top box to watch, and you can save to your hard drive,” difficult time, between unexpected network issues, uneven student Through the initial phases of testing, to the campus-wide rollout, • Eventual shortage of the initial set-top box was impossible for many students to resist - exactly the situation that expectations, and our own lack of experience with the technology and from there, later changes in set-top box technology and the • Provider switched middleware during the summer of 2007 we are contractually obligated to D&E to prevent. produced troubleshooting headaches. Having technological middleware supplied by our vendor, there have been many issues that • Students could use a widely-available media player to To address this, our network engineer developed some tools to infrastructure in place isn’t enough - efficient billing and have been addressed. In addition to technological and logistical watch content free of charge, in violation of our agreement monitor activity at the switch level, to collect reports on what IPs and administration of the system also proved to be vital to client challenges, issues arising from billing consumers of the service and with the content provider MACs were watching different multicast streams, and disabling satisfaction. We also have learned that students will indeed try to use maintaining the security of the system from bright and perhaps student network ports as appropriate. Once he began doing this, we the service in ways you - and your service provider - did not intend, unscrupulous students have also taught us valuable lessons. saw a sharp reduction of this form of unauthorized access. and only vigilance and careful network monitoring can keep that at Social/Administrative bay. • High cost of the initial set-top boxes, particularly from the As new technologies come on-line, we will continue to integrate point of view of upperclass students, Social/Administrative Challenges them into our service. Currently, there is provider support from D&E The Bertrand Library, the heart and • Student difficulty in setting up the box and provisioning One of the earliest challenges we faced was the student reaction to Communications for Hi-Definition service. We have the network soul of the University, and home of our pricing. Initial fees were $248 for the set-top box, and $97 a infrastructure to take advantage of this, but billing and logistical issues QuickTime™ an d a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor the Technology Support Desk, which content are need ed to see this p icture . • Registering students was an arduous manual process semester for content. This cost prevented many upperclass students have yet to be resolved - we do not have a streamlined way of co-ordinates providing students access to BUTV from using the program, since they felt that paying for a box they associating different users with different subscriptions to high- would only use for a year or two to be a bad deal. The semester definition channels, and billing them appropriately. Mid-course corrections content fee has since risen to $103, but the newer Amino boxes are Similarly, access to premium channels is something that is on the • New, cheaper, less failure-prone set top boxes became cheaper at $200, and incoming students are far more willing to buy horizon, but there the aforementioned billing issues with high- available in the summer of 2007 the box, since they’re guaranteed to get four years of use out of it. definition TV are compounded by the fact that D&E has not yet • Closer monitoring of the content streams by our network Siginificant documentation of the system was written, and negotiated an understanding with content providers that will allow the administrator each BUTV box “kit” comes with the appropriate accessory cabling content providers to provide encrypted streams of premium content to • The new middleware greatly improved the registration and a one-page document illustrating how the system should be set our students. Motivation & Pilot Program process up, both in terms of registering for content as well as the physical Television straight to PCs is very much desired by our student TV in dorms has long been desired by the student body. The initial wiring: body, as shown by our student’s unauthorized experiments in that area, request from the Bucknell Student Government came to ISR in 2001. but D&E has been very forward in letting us know it is absolutely not Many of our peer schools have offered cable for years, and the lack of allowed. This is a larger issue in the IPTV market, as consumers seek cable television was a particular source of unhappiness for many of to avoid buying expensive set-top boxes of (perceived) limited utility, our students who found themselves in rural PA, “close to America’s Technical Challenges while the content providers seek to protect their revenue streams from agricultural traditions,” and far away from vibrant night-life or diverse One of the first problems we noticed existed with our Cisco 3500 unlicensed duplication of their content. cultural experiences. switches. They only offered a two-state QoS model, and did not Initial experiments in providing streaming movies were not multicast efficiently, offering reduced performance for our users. The particularly well received, and plans to run co-axial cable went solution to that problem was to replace about 60 of the 3500 switches nowhere after the large infrastructure expenditure needed (approx. with 3550, which had much better QoS and multicast support. Acknowledgments $2.5 million) became apparent. In 2003, following up on continued We also encountered a bug in the switch software which would Many thanks to Eric Smith, our network engineer, for providing much of the interest from the Bucknell Student Government, a decision was made sometimes result in packets being re-broadcast to the set-top boxes, technical background to this presentation, Jason Snyder and Isabella O’Neill for providing background on the student point-of-view of the project, as well as long- to leverage our existing data network to provide television which would then get them out of synch. The problem was difficult to term history about the genesis of the project, Bud Hiller for suppling more recent programming. track down, and eventually required Cisco to make an on-site visit to history, as well as his notes on an earlier presentation, and Janine Follmer for An important initial discussion centered around funding for the verify the problem. Cisco shortly afterwards supplied us with a processing hundreds of BUTV registrations each semester by hand. Thanks also go program. There was a significant body of students who felt that the firmware update that resolved the issue. out to the Bucknell Bookstore, who have partnered with us to sell the set-top boxes, service should be “free,” in the sense that the fees were made by the Bucknell Finance Office and Lori Wilson for doing much of the work involved in By the spring of 2007, the original supply of RCA IP900 set-top billing, the Bucknell Student Government, for bringing the issue to our attention and increasing the cost of tuition or room charges. Since this would have boxes was running critically low, and no more were to be found - they making sure we satisfied the campus demand. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, required the approval of the University Board of Trustees for the were no longer in production, and supplies had run out with every to ISR’s student employees, who have done so much of the legwork in making this Despite our best attempts at documentation, significant increase, as well as being unfair to students who did not wish to take vendor we contacted. In consultation with our content provider, who project a success for the campus. numbers of students need phone or in-room support every year to advantage of the service, it was eventually decided that the cost should was planning on a middleware change, we ended up chosing the use BUTV. be borne by the students who chose to use the service. Amino set-top box as a replacement. In addition to being widely Another challenge was the clunky registration process we A pilot program was run in a few of the dorms in the spring of available, it had a smaller form factor, faster performance, and a lower had to work with initially. When the program started, students 2004, and proved very popular. At the same time, some students found the service confusing, and the test revealed some network issues that price. would have to register in our campus portal, and then those For further information During the summer of 2007, D&E switched their IPTV registrations needed to be hand-entered into a ponderous Java Please contact email@example.com to reach me directly, or firstname.lastname@example.org needed to be addressed before we went live in the fall of 2004. middleware to Athena 3.0. They worked closely with us to test both to reach Bucknell’s Technology Support Team middleware application; to process the 500 or so registrations took One unfortunate effect of deciding to go live in the fall of 2004 our exisiting IP900 boxes as well as the new Amino boxes, and one of our administrative assistants about three workdays to was that our student employees did not have a chance to become because we were prepared, the transition went smoothly. To view our campus BUTV website, please visit: complete. The new middleware automates much of this; all students http://www.bucknell.edu/BUTV.xml familiar with troubleshooting set-top boxes before the fall semester are pre-loaded into the provider’s database, and only the ones who started; while normally our student employees are deployed to the activate a set-top box and use the service are billed. Quic kTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompress ed) decompres sor dorms during move-in weekend, their own inexperience with the boxes are needed to see this picture. made it a trying time for everyone involved.