Within the next two years, cable TV in the University of Rhode Island residence halls may be obsolete. Director of Housing and Residential Life John Sears said that as more students resort to streaming on their personal devices, cable is used less and less.

“We try to stay forward with technology,” Sears said. “Residence halls used to have corded landline phones.” With growing cell phone usage, HRL has already phased out corded phones.

There is no finalized decision as to when cable will stop being provided in the dorms, but it’s merely a matter of time as the technology industry changes, Sears said. Students can expect a change somewhere between the next six months to two years. Sears said this is not a move recently thought about at the university.

“This has been in the works for several years now,” Sears said. “Students just aren’t sitting in front of the TV like they used to.”

According to David Porter, director of media and technology services, students use about 4.5 gigabytes of bandwidth using streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBOGo each night on campus. It costs about $200,000 per year to provide cable TV to students, which comes out of a “communications fee” that all students living on campus are required to pay. At the moment, a $128 fee goes toward WiFi infrastructure and cable television, among other technological expenses in the dorms, according to Sears.

However, eradicating a paid cable subscription may not mean it’s gone altogether. Over the summer, Porter experimented with what channels could be picked up just over the airwaves via an antenna. “We had a graduate student stand on the roof of Chafee with a small antenna and a portable TV,” said Porter. “It picked up about 30 channels…including ABC, NBC, FOX, all over the air, and all in high definition, something we don’t have now.”

While HRL is still discussing options and has not made any decisions regarding where the money will go, this could mean allocating the money to a stronger WiFi connection.

Upon hearing about the decision to take away cable, URI students have had mixed reactions. Elana Rivkin, a sophomore student, said it would not matter too much to her, as she does not watch much TV during the week. “It would be irritating for the shows that I do like watching, though,” she said.

Junior Dakota Dolde felt that it would be almost rude to take away cable that we’ve had on campus for so long.

“I guess it’s more of an agreed upon thing that we get cable with the housing, and being that we’ve had it consistently, to take it away would be a downgrade in our living experience with no reasoning for doing so,” he said. “If there were some massive debt that the university had and had no other way to pay for it, then yeah, start taking away things that aren’t ‘necessary’ for living. But from what I understand the university is in no such situation.”

Sears and the rest of HRL are interested in student input throughout the process, he said. Earlier this month, a survey was sent out by HRL to ask students about their cable use habits. This information, along with technology focus groups, are integral to making whatever transitions are decided upon smoother.

“We haven’t made any decisions yet,” Sears said. “But we’re looking at industry trends and what’s in the best interest for our resident students. [We want] to get the decision timed right so that people will say, ‘Well, that makes sense.’”

Sears encourages students to attend the focus groups and reach out to HRL with their comments and suggestions. For resident students interested, the next technology focus groups will be held on Dec. 2 in the Burnside Hall lounge and Dec. 9 in the Bressler Hall lounge, starting at 6 p.m. 

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Emma Gauthier
Emma is a senior journalism and English double major with a minor in political science from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. She has worked for the Cigar since her first semester at URI as a staff reporter, then web editor, news editor and finally Editor in Chief. Emma also edits for the URI research magazine, Momentum, and hopes to find a career in political reporting upon her graduation in May.