Don’t Ban our LAN


Just when we thought it was finally gone, the LAN ban is back.

Lan ban

The LAN ban has been a contentious issue for a long time now, as can be gleaned from this T5E article from 2010. The rule was initially imposed in 2006, from 1 am to 5 am, after a huge increase was observed in the number of students napping in class and LAN gaming was identified as a probable cause. The cut was extended to the present 11 hours on weekdays in 2008. The GCU (as Mitr was known then) head during 2010, Prof. G Srinivasan, noted that the cut had led to very little improvement in student performance, but added that the administration felt that the situation could have deteriorated drastically had the measure not been taken.

Since this is a Senate rule, the ban will continue in its present form until the next Senate meeting, which is scheduled for the first week of March. Student representatives are currently working on a proposal to the Senate to reduce or stop the ban.

The Philosophical Argument: for Student Liberty

In essence, the LAN ban is a policy that restricts students’ freedom, with the view that this is being done for their own good. The paternalistic ideology that informs this policy is at odds with the philosophy of the institute, and, indeed, of most top Universities in the world — that of giving students the freedom to choose how they spend their time.

Students of IIT Madras have certain academic responsibilities — assignments to submit, courses to study for, and projects to work on — which will make demands of their time. A failure to complete one’s work satisfactorily has consequences, like lower grades or project extensions. Thus, students are required to manage their time effectively, so as to fulfil their academic responsibilities while doing justice to any other activities they choose to take up.

In this context, students should be given the freedom and flexibility to manage their time as they would want to. In an institute like ours, which houses some of the brightest and most motivated students in the country, it is counter-productive to spoon-feed them, to restrict their freedom in the fear that they will while away their time, and to explicitly demarcate some hours as ‘sleeping hours’ and other hours as ‘study hours’.

This is not to say that all students will, left to themselves, always spend their time productively — far from it. But students have responsibilities to fulfil, and consequences for not doing so satisfactorily, which means that they will have to learn how to utilize their time to get their work done, without being dependent on a guiding hand — a learning that is beneficial, and even crucial, in the long run. Further, as adults, the option of wasting their time should be left open to students, and it is neither expected, nor practical, for the institute to take on the responsibility of schooling students.

Notably, the top Universities in the world (going by the widely accepted QS World University Rankings) are strong advocates of student liberty. There are also numerous success stories involving students of these Universities, and others like them, and it can be argued that this can be attributed to, at least in part, the attitudes and atmosphere at these places. Of course, this is also true for IIT Madras, which is significantly more liberal than most Indian campuses, and also boasts numerous success stories — indeed, policies like the LAN ban are the exception rather than the rule.

The Practical Argument: Is the LAN ban working?

The internet can, to put it mildly, be a huge distraction. It is not uncommon for students to spend inordinate amounts of time playing games on the LAN/internet, or watching sitcoms and movies from DC++. But does the LAN ban really solve this problem? The only thing it really puts a halt to is LAN gaming — offline games, as well as movies and sitcoms, can be downloaded in bulk when there is connectivity, and played or watched during the LAN ban.

It is true that there are cases in the institute of students being addicted to their laptops/internet to an unhealthy extent, enough to affect their academics and other responsibilities. This is precisely why we have support systems in our institute — to identify, and handle, such cases where the situation gets out of control. With a strictly enforced 85% attendance system, the LAN ban is only an additional, possibly redundant, measure to get students to attend class. In cases where students miss classes despite the attendance rule, and risk getting a W grade, it does not seem likely that a simple LAN ban will suffice.

Also, it is now a whole nine years after the LAN ban was first imposed. In this time, the internet has come to occupy a larger, and more indispensable, part of our lives than ever before. There is no dearth of examples: course and mess registrations are now done through online portals, as are most assignment and report submissions; research papers and reference material are almost always accessed online, and, more generally, the easiest way to obtain any piece of information now is through online searches; a lot of the placement process is now done through an online portal, as are applications to Universities or jobs outside the institute. The internet is also essential for communication — whether to chat with a friend, send an email to professional contacts, or have a Skype interview with a potential graduate advisor.

Without internet connectivity, productivity is severely constrained. It should be noted that a lot of these activities require continuous connectivity — there were more than a couple of instances last week involving students scrambling to the academic zone, looking for a place with internet connectivity, so that they could give an important online interview for their applications to Universities in the US. This specific situation is made especially difficult by the fact that it requires a quiet place where the interviewee will not be disturbed.

The major problem with the LAN ban’s effectiveness is that it attempts to be a one-size-fits-all solution where none is possible. The 8 am to 2 pm cut is intended to ensure that students do not miss classes due to the internet, but does not take into account the widely differing schedules of students in the institute. For example, final year undergraduates and research scholars have very few courses, while half the first year undergraduates have courses from 2 pm to 5 pm, and not in the morning slot — clearly, the LAN ban constitutes a great inconvenience for such students.

A middle-ground solution might be to have a selective LAN ban — something that is made possible by the netaccess authentication system. Students who believe that they would benefit from a LAN ban should be allowed (and encouraged) to approach the support systems and voluntarily have their connectivity restricted.

Finally, it is worth observing that, in recent years, mobile data networks have become faster, more accessible and more affordable. A large number of students simply switch to using their 3G connections when the LAN cut comes into effect, and this number is only going to increase. This renders the LAN ban largely ineffective against such students — the only difference being that they are now paying their service provider for an internet connection that they were otherwise provided by the institute. While it is true that money will be a deterrent, it is obvious that it will be a less effective one for precisely those students who are unhealthily addicted to the internet.

Survey Results

A move that restricts the ability of students to make their own choices is, unsurprisingly, unpopular. Take a look at these charts from T5E’s internet usage survey, which was conducted in December 2013. It was filled by a total of 1397 students, from all years and programs.


Do you agree with the institute’s policy of limiting internet access on weekdays?

If yes, why?

Helps in ensuring I attend morning classes


Cuts down on distractions such as gaming into the night


Promotes a healthy sleep cycle




If no, why?

Interferes with academics/research


Motivation behind limiting access is not convincing


I work, play, sleep when I want, not when the institute decides




Again, if no, when would you like access to be provided?

8 a.m. to 2 p.m.


12 midnight to 5 a.m.


On weekdays which are holidays


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