CANARIE may have to levy connection fees

When the Harper government cut funding last spring to the CANARIE ultra-high speed research network, few expected the universities, hospitals and scientific institutions that use it would cheer.

They haven’t. Now, with three rounds of public consultations scheduled for later this month, there are questions about what CANARIE will do to comply with Industry Canada’s request the agency engage in “cost recovery” to meet the roughly $3 million a year in federal funding it has lost.

CANARIE has suggested imposing connection user fees.

One of three alternatives subscribers have been asked to look at would see some individual institutions paying tens of thousands of dollars a year, while another would see Ontario’s ORION research network paying CANARIE over $1.3 million a year.

Judging by the first conference call to test the reaction of users, held last month, the idea went over like a lead balloon.

There was “fairly strong resistance to the concept of connection fees” among the 17 callers, CANARIE CEO Jim Roche (pictured above) recalled in an interview Wednesday.

There is understanding that Ottawa has to deal with an increasing deficit, he added. But a number of call participants felt the government was basically downloading its financial problems to the provinces. They argued provincial governments and provincially-funded institutions cover the majority (58 per cent ) of costs for all of the research and education networks across the country.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story wrongly said provinces paid 58 per cent of CANARIE’s budget.)

The December call was the first with subscriber institutions, Roche pointed out — two more conference calls are set for next week, followed by a live session in Ottawa on Jan. 21 – and may not be representative of all partners.

“We’re very sensitive of the potential consequences” of a fee, he said, “So we want to know what the community is able and willing to do.”

Roche hopes to present CANARIE’s solution in February to Industry Canada.

CANARIE’s federal funding for the next three years has been set at $62 million, or $20.7 million a year. It had been getting $24 million a year. It needs to find the difference somewhere.
Health Canada project taps CANARIE for network

CANARIE is the fibre optic backbone that connects provincial and territorial research networks like British Columbia’s BCnet and Ontario’s ORION and to other networks around the world. Institutions who are members pay an annual $2,500 fee.

Through CANARIE researchers in one end of the country can connect to another. It also allows Canadian researchers to connect to international projects, such as the CERN particle physics laboratory in Switzerland.

Annual traffic continues to increase. For the fiscal 2011-2012 year it was just over 45 Terrabytes.

CANARIE doesn’t need the consent of its partners to start charging connection fees. And it could defy Ottawa. But there will be consequences, it says, if it can’t make up the $3 million a year: Network upgrade plans might be delayed, the funds it gives provincial

networks might drop forcing institutions to find money elsewhere see a reduction in funding, and Ottawa might cut back its funding more.

One of the things Roche would like to do is buy more dark fibre, which can be lit by the agency when needed by its own equipment. That lowers the cost of buying bandwidth.

More importantly, Roche says, some institutions might drop out of CANARIE and buy their connectivity from commercial carriers.

He has suggested three connection fee options:

–A fee based on full time students and research budgets. So, for example, in the first year the four heaviest users of the network and 24 universities with more than $100 million in research finding would pay $25,000, and $50,000 the next year.

But users like TRIMF, located on the campus of UBC would pay a fee on top of what the university pays.

There’s risk small institutions who have little benefit from CANARIE will chose not to pay;

–Usage based billing. Those who transmit more than 500 TB (seven institutions) would pay $100,000 the first year, $150,000 the second.

There’s a risk institutions would cut back research or impose bandwidth restriction on researchers.

–Charge each provincial research network for connectivity based on population or amount of research performed in the province. Under this proposal Ontario, the biggest province, would pay $577,000 in first year and $1.154 in the second based on population, or $685,500 the first year and $1.37 million based on research.

This model puts the responsibility for CANARIE’s cost recovery in the hands of its provincial/territorial research network partners, a CANARIE discussion paper notes, yet CANARIE is responsible for cost recovery to the government of Canada. “This model therefore presents some accountability issues which may not be easily solvable,” the paper says.

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