A new working group paper on broadband and science from the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development sets out the importance of national research and education networks (NRENs), in the wider context of broadband's role in supporting science and education communities.
Recommendations specific to NRENs include:
- Research and Education Networks (RENs), the bodies set up in most countries – including developing countries – to manage and maintain e-Infrastructures, should be given high political visibility towards governments, regulators and academia given their role in the transformation of developing economies into knowledge societies.
- National authorities and the relevant international organizations should promote affordable and fair access to broadband e-infrastructures via the establishment and consolidation of national, regional and global RENs, fostering cooperative environments that bridge the Digital Divide (non-connected countries and regions) and the Geographical Divide (disadvantaged non-central areas).
- RENs should spearhead technological and service innovation in partnership with industry.
- Broadband e-Infrastructures should be leveraged for public service, fostering the engagement of RENs in other public sectors such as e-Health, e-Government, e-Learning, e-Innovation and "e-Capacity Building".
Examples from the USA also illustrate this transition. The United States Unified Community Anchor Network (USUCAN) project aims to "provide community anchor institutions including public safety organizations, public libraries, K-12 schools, community colleges, research parks, and health care organizations with advanced broadband capabilities and services." The initiative utilises the capabilities and reach of the Internet2 national research and education network:
"The U.S. UCAN project was established under the auspices of a federal stimulus grant to Internet2 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Using this stimulus funding, Internet2 is acquiring more than 10,000 miles of fibre optic cable and will build a new nationwide network infrastructure with an unprecedented 8.8 Terabits of capacity using emerging 100 Gigabit per second technology. This new infrastructure will serve as the underlying infrastructure for U.S. UCAN to offer its services to community anchor institutions nationwide. The new network which will be built through strong public-private partnerships, intends to complement and link together new regional community anchor networks created through BTOP funding as well as Internet2’s existing regional network members and network connectors. The goal is to provide the high performance national networking capable of fully supporting all 200,000 community anchor institutions across the U.S. - three times as many institutions as the Internet2 Network serves today."An ambition very much in keeping with the recommendations set out in the Broadband Commission's working paper, extending the reach and benefits of an existing NREN to a much wider community. Another US project of note is the Gig.U initiative, which comprises "a broad-based group of over 30 leading research universities from across the United States...Gig.U seeks to accelerate the deployment of ultra high-speed networks to leading U.S. universities and their surrounding communities." The project issued a request for information (RFI) in September 2011 which set out four goals as the first step towards Gig.U delivering its mission:
- Promote the deployment of next generation networks across member communities to stimulate economic development;
- Identify creative approaches to design, operate and finance self-sustaining next generation networks for member communities while evaluating the trade-offs between these different approaches;
- Gain an understanding of how differences between member communities influence the level of private sector interest in working with any individual community; and
- Consider ways in which multiple Project communities can work together beyond the RFI process to improve the private sector business case for next generation networks.
"The Project is focused on providing broader community connectivity to the member universities and communities. The existing R&E networks provide significant institutional connectivity to all of the member universities. This effort will neither duplicate nor compete with those networks. Rather, the Project will work with the R&E community and others with network facilities in the university communities, to develop new approaches to extending and upgrading existing network assets with a focus on higher speed retail offerings to places on campus that are not served by the existing R&E networks and to the areas surrounding the campuses. This will enable those who work with ultra-high speed networks on campus to be able to continue their work while home and create laboratories of greater connectivity throughout the university and surrounding community."A slightly different kind of cross-fertilisation than that being undertaken by USUCAN perhaps, but very interesting nevertheless.
Of related interest are gigabit projects like Gig.U participant Case Western Reserve University's Case Connection Zone initiative, Chattanooga's city-wide municipally-owned fiber-to-the-premises network delivering 1Gbps services as well as Google's fibre initiative in Kansas City (some interesting ideas already here), all of which are test-beds and trail-blazers for exploring the capabilities and possibilities of high bandwidth services. More on these in my next post.