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Colleges play catch-up on Wi-Fi

With a few keystrokes, California University of Pennsylvania junior Ronald Lincoski connects his computer to others on campus, thanks to an expanded wireless network.

In the past, he would have downloaded data to a portable drive and carried it to a computer or other device for uploading.

"This will be much improved," said Lincoski, 21, of Daisytown in Washington County, a computer information systems major.

The expanded network -- a $2.1 million collaboration with AT&T -- not only will allow wireless sharing across campus, it will put the Internet quickly at the fingertips of Cal's 9,500 students no matter where they are, from the dorms to the football stadium.

Colleges and universities such as Cal U. and Duquesne are racing to provide the connectivity their students crave

Parts of Duquesne's campus are wireless, including the student union, law school, library, and outdoor green spaces, said spokeswoman Tammy Ewin. The university expects to extend wireless service to the remaining academic buildings and residence halls by June 30, 2013.

"I think there is an expectation among college students that they will be able to access what they need wherever they are -- at home, at school, on the bus," said Aaron W. Smith, a senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which tracks Internet trends.

Milliennials, those aged 18 to 33, are more likely to access the Internet wirelessly, according to Pew.

"Ninety-six percent have cell phones; nine in 10 have laptops; 90 percent use a wireless Internet connection," Smith said.

Lincoski routinely carries an array of wireless devices -- smartphone, tablet, laptop, netbook. More than 70 percent of Cal U. students carry smartphones, the university said.

Carnegie Mellon University even is part of wireless history -- the first wireless network anywhere was built there, in 1994.

Dubbed "Wireless Andrew'' after university benefactors Andrew Carnegie and Andrew Mellon, it originally provided coverage in seven campus buildings. The network expanded in 1999 to serve all 65 residential, academic and administrative buildings on campus -- covering about 3 million square feet and outside areas.

The University of Pittsburgh has been wireless for six years, its library even longer.

"A lot of our resources were on the Internet," said Rush Miller, director of Pitt's University Library System and Hillman University Librarian. "It made sense for us to deliver that online."

Wireless access first became available at Robert Morris University in 2005. It was available in every building by 2010.

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