Thanks to student efforts, schools tune in online

Free music for the entire student body. What sounded like an empty campaign promise reminiscent of the "MTV during study hall" or "extended lunch period" pledges of high school elections became a reality for students at the University of Miami this semester.

Thanks to efforts spearheaded by Student Government President Vance Aloupis, Miami signed a contract with Napster in July to offer free and legal online music to all students, on and off campus. A handful of other institutions also began to offer similar services this year.

"In student government there's always the speculation that you might not fulfill your campaign promises," said Aloupis, the only candidate who ran on a platform of free music shareware for students. "I'm not going to lie -- at times I had doubts about delivering such a huge promise."

While online music was not an issue during the University Student Council elections in the spring, Council President Noah Sullivan said they discussed the issue a number of times last semester.

"Basically we decided to see what's out there," Sullivan said. "We're looking at other schools. We're definitely open and looking at what the best option is."

He added that Council will address the issue in more depth once the semester gets underway.

"We have to better define what our goal is -- whether it's just to provide service or to prevent illegal downloading," Sullivan said.

University administrators support implementing a subscription music service and are currently in the earliest stages of evaluating online music companies, said Shirley Payne, University director for security coordination and policy.

Payne said administrators will work closely with the office of the vice president for student affairs and various student groups to work out a tentative plan.

"We're determining the best way to get the input we need from students," she said. "We really want to work more formally with students to determine what they want."

Payne added that Council would be a good place to start.

Student-led initiatives and student involvement are major factors in implementing online music services on college campuses.

"Before we start writing a line of code or approaching record labels or movie studios, we wanted to build a service that would be extremely compelling for students," said David Galper, co-founder and vice president of marketing for Ruckus Networks, a Boston-based online music company launching a pilot program at Northern Illinois University this semester.

Galper and other company officials talked to more than 1,500 students face-to-face at several dozen institutions.

"In the early days when we were formulating our product, we wanted to build something that would be attractive for schools, but also enjoyable for students," he said.

Student demand dictates the services that the company offers, which include music, movies and student-produced content.

"Our programming is based on what students are looking for in terms of entertainment and finding out what they are listening to on a daily basis," said Doug Wallace, company chief financial officer and senior vice president.

Feedback from students at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Rochester, the first two schools to sign deals with Napster, helped Aloupis in his effort to bring free music to Miami students.

Prior to his campaign, Aloupis e-mailed groups of random students at each school to discuss how they liked the program and how it has affected their college experience.

"Every response I got back was so positive," he said.

Aloupis began actively pursuing his Napster initiative during the summer, when administrators were less busy. He contacted officials at Napster to discuss pricing and technological details before presenting Miami administrators with his proposal.

After a few weeks of negotiation, all Miami undergraduates had free access to 700,000 online songs.

"This was our idea -- it was all student oriented," Aloupis said. "That's what made it really exciting -- the students made their voices heard and we were able to get this done."

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