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Cell phone poses threat

Mills College Weekly

Colleges and universities are being hit by the decrease of on campus long distance calls, as students favor cell phone use, leaving school administrators wary of their financial future in the telecommunications field.

For years, many schools around the nation had set up a system where they collected revenue from the phone plans they offered their students. This money was then used to cover various institutional costs, as extra income for the school.

However, as schools began to rely on this small but profitable income, other cheaper options began to pop up for students most notably, cell phones. According to National Public Radio, more than 6o percent of college students now carry a cell phone.

Senior Zehra Ahsan is part of that cell phone user majority. Every night she makes calls to Oregon, Texas and a number of other states. Sometimes, she finds herself on the phone with family and friends for up to six hours. Her cell phone, she said, “is my primary phone.”

Although relatively new to the phone service provider industry, the telecommunications department at Mills has incurred decreases in long distance phone use by students.

According to Roger Ono, Assistant Vice President for Financial Affairs and Human Resources, the decrease at Mills, “is not a big enough impact, but that isn’t to say that it will continue to be true.”

In fact after three years of providing long distance services to its students, the Mills telecommunications branch has just barely been able to remain afloat. Which is why they assert that they aren’t in it for the money.

“We never realized the possibility of huge revenues that other schools did, because we came in too late,” said Sandi Daniels, telecommunications manager. “We just want to provide students the best inexpensive service.”

This goal, they have to achieve while maintaining the program, which may be harder said than done.

During the first year, Mills long distance services made a profit of $4,900. However, this number saw a significant drop every year there after. In its second year, the department made a profit of little over $3,000. Last year, Mills was forced to supplement the program with outside funds, and still only $1,926 was made in profit.

Such numbers have left administrators uncertain about whether these phone services will continue to be provided by the school in the years to come. Or even whether the staff that runs the telecommunications services can remain on payroll.

“Our operational costs cover the maintenance on the phone system, both local incoming and outgoing calls, a small budget for repair, and the half-time salary of [the telecommunications assistant position], ” said Daniels.

“With the increase of student cellular use, we will continue to provide dial tone for emergency dialing and local calls,” said Daniels. “But I’m not so sure how long we will stay in the long distance business, it might only be one or two years.”

Although the numbers of long distance phone use for the current school year aren’t available to staff, Daniels acknowledges that “this year isn’t looking very good, last year we just about broke even.”

This, however, will do little to affect students such as Emma Panui, a junior, who decided after one year not to continue using the schools long distance service. On her second phone card this school year, Panui doesn’t see herself switching back.

“I don’t really calculate how many calls I make,” she said. But, “it is cheaper to use a phone card.”

Ono doesn’t blame such increasing numbers of students not using Mills long distance on the questionable future of Mills phone services. He believes this is just another facet of the industry.

“It’s just a change in business over time. Usually you structure phone services to just brake even, and with cell phones, especially long distance you get hindered.”

Currently, there are various resolutions that the telecommunications department is looking at. Possible options include providing students with cell phone plans, such as the one’s already provided for staff and faculty, or simply ending the Mills long distance plan for students.

Although no decision has been made, Daniels says the latter of the two is more likely. “It’s really just a matter of time, if we can’t cover our costs,” she said.

In order to brake even, the telecommunications department must meet the $110,000 cost of running services.

And in the face of other school’s phone service losses, such as the loss of $400,000 this year alone at Cal. State University, Chico, due to the continued proliferation of cell phones, instant messaging, and calling cards, Mills phone services is finding itself under increased pressure to survive.