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Abstract -- REUNA: How an Academic Network can be Self-Funded Regional Track
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REUNA: How an Academic Network can be Self-Funded

Utreras, Florencio ( futreras@reuna.cl)


In 1987 Chile became the first SouthAmerican country to be connected to BITNET using a 9.6 Kbps dedicated link shared with the Santiago Tracking Station, a NASA owned facility. This first step allowed several hundred scientists to start using e-mail and file transfer facilities initiating the process of involvement in worldwide networking efforts.

This first effort was possible because of the existence of that 9.6 Kbps link to the US that we were able to use for free. It is clear that a dedicated connection to the growing academic networks would have been impossible otherwise; the price of such a link was US$ 6.000 per month at that time and certainly no university authority was able to understand the relevance of paying such amount of money for the new service.

During the years 1988 and 1989 we connected several universities and some non-profit institutions to BITNET thru this link which was provided to us free of charge. Nevertheless, we started charging a little amount for internationla traffic in order to help finance the operation of the node. This step was very important in the sense that the academic community became aware of the fact that there are associated charges in operating a network. Something some people around the world seem to ignore.

As early as 1988 we bought a router and started trying to get the funding for the dedicated 56 Kbps international link that we needed to get into the Internet. During 1988 and 1989 we were unsuccessfull in convincing university authorities and the governement that this was a very important matter for the develpment of the academic community, specially considering that Chile is a country far away from most of the world.

In 1990 CONICYT, our national organization in charge of stimulating science and technology decided to support us under the principle that even though some money could be allocated for starting the network, a more permanent basis for funding should come from the users themselves. At that time the word users meant "academic users". Under the support of CONICYT, 19 universities created a non-profit organization called "Red Universitaria Nacional (REUNA)". This organization applied and got a seed funding of US$ 1,000,000 to establish a national IP network and finally we got connected to the Internet on January 2, 1992.

The funding agency, FONDEF (a fund managed by CONICYT), requested from us to justify that the network would be self supported in a 2 years period. This requirement forced us to start thinking in other non-profit and then for-profit institutions which could be connected to the Internet on a Pay for Service basis. We started to commercialize Internet Access in January 1994, first for non-profit and from October 1994 on, for commercial institutions. In one year we grew from 27 to 315 institutions connected to the Internet thru REUNA, and forcasts for 1995 go from 1200 to 2000. In the same period, the income coming from this commercialization grew by 800%.

REUNA is among the fastest growing networks in the world. In January 1992 we started a 56 Kbps link which was changed to a 128 Kbps in February 1994 and to 512 Kbps in January 1995. We expect to increase our link to the USA to T1 in December 1995.

How can we fund this growth?. If the universities were the only users of the network it would be simply impossible. Indeed the university members are heavy users but are allways lacking money. The only way to do it is thru selling services to other institutions which request it. We have become an Internet Access Provider.

We think that the success of REUNA is due to three factors:

  1. An organization where the Presidents of the universities have been involved. This is very important in obtaining the support of the institutions involved.
  2. The operation is performed by Operations Centers independent of the university members of the Consortium. This means that profesionals involved in the operation of REUNA are devoted uniquely to IP connectivity and not to academic support.
  3. The creation of a price scheme which takes into account the particular situation of Chile in terms of telecommunication costs. This scheme is a mix between per-byte traffic and flat rates. We have created the concept of "virtual bandwidth".
Other factors are of course of a great importance, like a good commercialization scheme and the good quality of telecommunications in Chile; nevertheless we think that the key factors are the ones described above.

REUNA is facing 1995 with a wide range of access possibilities, ranging from dial-up, 28.8 Kbps, ISDN, Frame Relay and Digital services, as well as several commercial arrangements with distributors and the chilean carriers to take Internet to all users requesting connection. We think that this experience could be useful to other academic institutions in Developing Countries.