Australian telecommunications authority Telecom has taken charge of the nation's major, university-owned, link to the Internet.
Under a one-year renewable contract with the Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, Telecom has assumed management responsibility for the Australian Academic and Research Network, AARNet.
Although Telecom will now be responsible for managing academic and business traffic, individual universities will continue to control their own staff access to the network. Academics are unlikely to experience any difference from current arrangements.
The chairman of AARNet's board of management, David Beanland, said Telecom had agreed to undertake a restructuring of the network tariffs, introduce 24-hour customer service, and increase transmission speed on the international component of the network by 33 per cent - from 4.5 megabits per second (Mbps) to 6 Mbps.
The AVCC has come under fire from providers who claim the committee has not properly managed AARNet. This has resulted in frequent congestion and downtimes that inconvenienced customers. Many academics have been unable to make contact with colleagues in other countries during the day and have had to resort to communicating at night or on the weekend.
"The huge growth in demand for Internet access from both within and outside the academic world has placed increasingly heavy demands on AARNet over the past few years," Professor Beanland said.
"The AVCC believes that AARNet's present and future customers will be served best if the network is managed by a national company with proven expertise in telecommunications, and the large sales and technical services capacity to support it."
While the deal is believed to mean a one-off multi-million dollar payment to the AVCC, universities will also benefit because their current basic cost of Aus$25,000 (Pounds 11,400) a year for a 64KB link will be cut to about $20,000.
The committee earlier this year instituted a highly unpopular volume-based charging system but Telecom will now impose charges according to service capacity.