Australian universities expect a fourfold increase over the next three years in the cost of providing staff and students with access to the Internet. Several have restricted student access or made users pay.
Institutions say they cannot afford to offer students free access - especially when most are believed to be using the Net for entertainment, not education.
The contract between the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee and the national telecommunications authority, Telstra, for the operation of the university-wide network is about to expire and it is likely a new agreement will result in a big rise in traffic charges.
The AVCC is negotiating with commercial carriers for Internet services but Telstra is expected to remain the most competitive. At the University of New South Wales, staff and students now pay 50 cents an hour to access the Internet via the university from home. Students in residential colleges at the Australian National University have had their access revoked while Internet access on campus has been limited to certain hours. At Charles Sturt University, students are restricted to six hours' Internet access a week.
Cliff Bellamy, dean of computing and information technology at Monash University, said that instead of trying to charge students for Net access the university may ask commercial firms to provide student accounts.
The Australian Computer Society says that students should be allocated free Net access to undertake their courses, but that those who want to explore the World Wide Web for entertainment or their own purposes should expect to pay something towards the cost.