Universities face Net price hike

Demand by Australian academics, researchers and commercial organisations for access to the international computer network, Internet, is doubling every nine months.

The demand has forced an upgrade of the trans-Pacific link for the second time in a little more than a year.

The Australian Vice Chancellors' Committee, which controls local net operations through the Australian Academic Research Network (AARNet) gave approval for the increase in the systems's capacity to cope with the rapidly rising volume of traffic.

The AARNet is connected to the net via an optical fibre cable that runs from Melbourne to the Ames Research Centre in California's Silicon Valley.

Peter Saalmans, the AARNet general manager, said that demand from users of the net in Australia had been so great that capacity had expanded from 64 Kilobits per second in 1989, when the network was set up, to 1.5 Megabits per second last year and now to 3 Mbps . "The increase in capacity is in response to the apparently insatiable demand for Internet access in Australia by universities, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and the many network affiliate members from the commercial, educational and government sectors," Mr Saalmans said.

The new link was already being well utilised with traffic volumes up to 80 per cent of capacity experienced at peak times, Mr Saalmans said.

On the first day the new circuit was opened, demand exceeded 1.5 Mbps which showed that expansion was clearly required, he added AARNet's budget is Aus$8 million a year and growing but with the upgrading of the international link and higher charges by Australia's Telstra, those using the system will have to pay more to access the vast and growing knowledge resources available on the net.

The AVCC has now introduced a volume-based cost system. The new charges apply to all university affiliates and the 300 corporations and government departments connected to the network.

Previously, academics in Australia's 37 public universities enjoyed free access to the net.

The institutions themselves paid a fixed annual fee based on the operating grant they received from the federal government and not on how much use they made of the network.

Corporate and government organisations have been charged according to the bandwidth of their connection.

The charges are fixed on a year by year basis regardless of the amount of traffic each company or government department generates.

There is concern outside the universities that small users may not be able to afford to tap into the network.

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