Missed Connections: Landlines Are Increasingly Unused on College Campuses. Does This Have to Mean Revenue Has Gone Missing as Well?

Article excerpt

WHEN HARRISBURG UNIVERSITY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY (PA.) OPENED ITS doors in 2005, its leaders made sure buildings and classrooms were ready, and that the school's wireless network was robust. One item left off the list was phone landlines.

"For us, it was about flexibility, and creating a system that's geared toward the future," says Eric Darr, Harrisburg's executive vice president. "We knew we could integrate phone calls with e-mail, and have a communication system that's closer to how students use technology these days. We barely considered putting landlines in the buildings."

Should a campus be wired for phone service? It's a question that would have seemed odd only a few years ago. Although the answer used to be "yes" without fail, many institutions of higher ed are now seriously examining the issue, pondering whether traditional telephone company-based lines should be put into new buildings, or even yanked from a campus altogether.

The move away from landlines is a change sparked by students, and it's being felt most in the accounts receivable office. Thanks to the popularity of cell phones, many colleges are getting socked by a revenue loss from decreased telephone landline usage on landlines that go completely unused. Dorm room phones, once a solid revenue stream of long distance charges, now rarely ring, and IHEs either don't necessarily provide landline handsets or may not even have the service installed in new buildings.

In response, some institutions are looking elsewhere for revenue or, where they can, cutting down on budgets. But other IHEs are determined to get back at least some of the missing funds on phone service, with initiatives that include partnerships with wireless companies, renting roof space to cellular providers, creating an in-college phone company, or considering new directions for VoIP.

Unlike creating a wireless network strategy and rolling it out--which is fairly standard practice, even if various components like vendors and network setup are tweaked--initiatives designed to make up for lost landline revenue are usually on a college-by-college basis. In other words, many are trying to find the path while simultaneously creating a map, and the endeavor can be tricky.

HOWDY, PARTNER

In deciding how to wrangle revenue from a dwindling source, some IHEs have inked deals that bring together wireless providers and university and college administrators. Most often, these partnerships are with cell service providers like Verizon, Cingular, or T-Mobile, which pay for the ability to set up cell sites or have exclusive selling rights on campus.

For example, Cingular Wireless and Murray State University (Ky.) have teamed up to place two cell sites near campus, as part of a broad sweep by Cingular to expand its coverage in Kentucky and southern Indiana. Cellular providers have been keen to rent roof space from IHEs, in order to boost their signals. The strategy is beneficial for institutions since it brings in revenue, and roof rights access has become particularly competitive in the last few years.

"Partnering with companies like T-Mobile and Cingular can be very beneficial," says Doug Kudravetz, assistant vice president for finance at American University (D.C.). "These deals can create opportunities not only with voice services, but also with a broader wireless plan." The university provided both companies with access to its antenna systems in exchange for rate plan discounts for AU students and staff. In 2005, all hardwire telephone service was discontinued in residence halls, and students were steered toward the Cingular plans (an effort that experienced a good conversion rate, Kudravetz notes).

The University of Notre Dame (Ind.) set up a different kind of partnership with AT&T--outsourcing telecommunications service for faculty and staff office telephones after phone service was removed from residence halls. …