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In less than two years, the University will sever ties to its modem pool and develop a cooperative venture with at least one local Internet service provider that would charge users a small fee. Next summer, the University will begin to phase out the service by charging off-campus students and other modem pool users a fee to dial in to PennNet, the University's Internet system. On June 30, 2001, Penn will permanently dismantle the system in favor of the ISPs, Vice Provost for Information Systems and Computing Jim O'Donnell said. "What we think we see happening is by July 2001 we will be getting out of the modem pool business entirely," O'Donnell said. Computer technology is changing so rapidly, O'Donnell added, that Penn can no longer compete with the burgeoning ISP business. He noted that Penn's 33.6 kbps modem pool is already slower than most ISPs, which generally offer a 56 kbps connection. Just upgrading the system to a higher connection speed would cost the University more than $1 million. "We provide already a service that is lower in standards than an ISP does," O'Donnell said. "We've seen usage continue to go up steadily every year and we're at a point where we can't go anywhere anymore." Currently, operating the system -- composed of about 1,000 modems that support over 14,000 users -- costs Penn over $1 million annually, a portion of which comes from rent paid by students living on campus who aren't even using the service. The access fee ISC officials plan to begin charging users next summer will serve to draw as many users away from PennNet as possible before it is disconnected, O'Donnell said, making the transition to other means of Internet travel as smooth as possible. The fee will be comparable to a "bargain price, good quality ISP," O'Donnell said. Officials will look to make deals with outside Internet providers for both basic 56 kbps modem connections as well as faster technologies like cable line modems and Digital Subscriber Lines, which allow subscribers to be on the phone and the Internet simultaneously while using one phone line. UC Connect -- a Penn initiative aiming to bring state-of-the-art Internet access to University City -- has already been exploring the possibility of DSL connections for the University community, and ISC administrators plan to work with UC Connect officials to recruit commercial ISPs by the July 1 deadline.

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