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30 May, 2016

G7 backs NRENs for research and education

Making the most of investments in research and education network infrastructure for bridging the digital divide.

At the recent G7 ICT Ministers’ meeting held in Kagawa, Japan (the first meeting of this group in nearly 20 years) much was made of the importance of research and education networks. The G7 ICT Ministers’ meeting was part of the broader G7 Summit and brought together the ICT Ministers representing the G7 countries of USA, UK, Japan, France, Italy, Canada, and Germany; plus the European Union.

Notably, the Joint Declaration the meeting produced states:

“We recognize (sic) the importance of development, interconnection and utilization of national research and education networks as providing an open infrastructure for education, research and development purposes that also serve to enhance connectivity around the world.

At AARNet, we’re pleased to see the role of research and education networks acknowledged in this way. In an era where research is increasingly collaborative, distributed and international and given Australia’s remote location, it is hard to imagine our nation’s researchers being globally competitive without the affordable, very high-bandwidth digital infrastructure AARNet, Australia’s national research and education network, provides.

AARNet interconnects researchers with their peers, instruments and, increasingly, digital archives, big data, computational resources and tools across Australia and around the globe. Education today is also increasingly dependent on technology for delivering digital experiences and digital content, and the same digital infrastructure provided by AARNet enables Australian education institutions to access global resources and compete in the international education market.

NREN infrastructure for education, research and development

Internationally, AARNet has a proud history of participating in regional initiatives with peer networks such as TEIN (Trans-Eurasian International Network), REANNZ (New Zealand’s research and education network) and PIREN (Pacific Islands Research and Education Network) and institutions including the University of the South Pacific and University of Hawaii to extend research and education network services to developing countries across Asia and the Pacific. In the Pacific, access to affordable high, quality broadband for education remains a very significant challenge despite subsea fibre being laid to replace satellite services.

On the home front, AARNet has built network infrastructure through many parts of regional Australia, extending its national backbone, to deliver services to regional campuses of shareholder institutions and to interconnect specific research facilities and instruments. These regional universities, campuses and facilities act as ‘anchor tenants’ for digital infrastructure, reducing the impact of distance and the isolation and disadvantage it can bring, by also enabling TAFEs, and other institutions involved in research and education, such as hospitals, schools, galleries, libraries and museums, to access the bandwidth they need and reap the benefits of transformative digital technologies.

Bridging the digital divide

A few examples: the Highlands Health Education and Research Network utilises an AARNet link to the Garvan Institute of Medical Research Australian BioResources (ABR) facility in Moss Vale to solve the problem of rapidly increasing bandwidth needs of schools and Internet access limited by existing telecommunications services and the geography of the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales. In outback Western Australia, access to an AARNet link running from Perth out to Geraldton and the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory has enabled Durack TAFE to significantly expand education opportunities for people living and working in that region. And, in regional Victoria, Geelong is embracing a regional community consortia model, with the first 5 of 28 schools connecting to AARNet in a project that encompasses Catholic, government and independent schools and ‘anchor tenant’ Deakin University.

For many schools, TAFEs and libraries in regional Australia, accessing the kind of broadband capabilities they need to integrate 21st-century digital teaching and learning practices is a challenge that can seem impossible to overcome.

The National Broadband Network and mobile blackspot programs do not provide broadband services that meet the needs or the budgets of schools and libraries. Finding ways to leverage existing AARNet infrastructure more widely as an “open infrastructure for education, research and development” may be an option for finding more sustainable solutions.

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