Expanding Internet Access in Bulgaria: The Role of Commercial IP Providers in Connecting Bulgarian Universities to the Internet

Volin Karagiozov <Volin@cserv.mgu.bg>


The paper reviews the history and the current status of Internet development in Bulgaria, the role of commercial IP providers in bringing up to Internet the universities and nonprofit organizations, the problems of establishing the IP connectivity for the whole academic and research community. The paper also discusses reasonable models for self-funding of networking in the universities.


Bulgaria is a small country, founded in 681 in the eastern part of Europe. Because of its geographical location in the southeast Balkan Peninsula, at the crossroads from Western, Central, and Eastern Europe to the Middle East and Asia, Bulgaria has an interesting position in world geopolitical plans.

Bulgaria appeared on the Internet in the late 1989, a time of significant changes for all Eastern European countries. The major characteristics of the situation in the network communication field in Bulgaria are:

Commercial ISP and academic ISP

In 1989 Digital Systems-Varna (EUnet-Bulgaria), a small Bulgarian private company established the first Internet point of presence using dial-up TCP/IP and soon after that TCP/IP over X.25 packet switch public transport media. Three years later this company became the first and the biggest IP provider in Bulgaria with growing infrastructure based on using international dedicated lines and dedicated lines in the country as well.

Figure 1. EUnet-Bulgaria IP topology (© EUnet-Bulgaria).

In most countries, the Internet follows the usual developmental scheme: military (defense) projects, then national science foundation funding, and finally commercialization and privatization. In Bulgaria, the connection to the Internet was initiated by a private company after commercialization of the Internet had already begun. This development of both communications and the Internet, in particular, in this country was a logic consequence of the whole economical and political situation at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s.

At the same time, the Bulgarian Academic community--universities and research and development institutes of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences--were connected to EARN/BITNET and, for a long time (up to 1995), stayed with BITNET technology. In 1995 an academic ISP, UNICOM-B, appeared on the scene after receiving some funds from the Bulgarian government. These funds were enough to establish only an analog 9.6 kbps leased line to Vienna University (see UNICOM-B IP topology) to serve the whole academic community.

Central (government) funding for universities

Such funding has some advantages, but many more disadvantages. Receiving the seed funds from the government is essential for starting any network development, but usually these funds are not enough to meet exponentially increasing needs in speed, quality, infrastructure development, and so forth. Usually the government is not able to ensure permanent funding within the necessary time. For this reason many universities in Bulgaria have no connectivity at all. These universities have elected the waiting for central funds strategy against the alternative of self-funding.

Self-funding scheme

Self-funding became possible thanks to a successful commercial ISP. In a very short time many companies, banks, and for-profit organizations were connected to the Internet by a commercial IP provider--EUnet-Bulgaria. Now EUnet-Bulgaria has an Internet point of presence in more than 15 towns in Bulgaria, connected through leased lines. By the end of 1996 another 15 towns are expected to be connected via leased lines, forming a commercial Internet backbone.

Gathering the critical mass of "big" commercial customers, EUnet-Bulgaria was able to offer an attractive preferential prices for universities, nonprofit organizations, health institutions, police, army, and others. In 1996 the first digital 128 kbps line was put in operation in Bulgaria by EUnet-Bulgaria--giving a new quality of internetworking. The policy of this commercial ISP allows its users to resell traffic and services. This ability is an important condition for creating self-sustaining networks.

Self-sustaining intermediate-level networks

In June 1994 University of Mining and Geology "St. Ivan Rilski", Sofia, a relatively small university with no more than 2,500 students, became the first Bulgarian university with full IP connectivity. It was connected by the commercial provider EUnet-Bulgaria, forming the intermediate-level network called MGUNet. Without any seed funding received from the Bulgarian Science Foundation, MGUNet very soon spun off for-profit operations offering dial-up IP access and information services to a certain category of users, not fully covered by the commercial provider. Now MGUNet serves over 150 customers outside the university (mainly small private companies and nonprofit organizations), ensuring its students and staff full access to all Internet information services and is approaching to become an self-sustaining intermediate-level network.


The benefits from such model of self-funding, recommended several years ago by the National Science Foundation in the United States are clear. Connectivity does not depend on centralized funding. The fact that universities are paying for services directly to the commercial provider stimulates research activity, scientific contacts, and projects with industry--all of which contribute to forming a sound self-funding budget for internetworking.