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.