The Australian Vice-chancellors' Committee has decided to hive off its internet arm, the Australian Academic Research Network, as a private company to operate the rapidly expanding electronic system.
The committee accepted a recommendation from the AARNet board to establish the network as a separate legal entity and to invite universities and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to become shareholders.
AARNet manager George McLaughlin said that with a turnover of Aus$22 million a year, the network represented the major component of the AVCC's budget. Vice-chancellors felt it would be better managed under its own board of directors.
Over the past four years AARNet's income has leapt threefold. Since it was set up in 1989 to provide network services to Australian universities and the CSIRO, AARNet has expanded at an astonishing rate. Currently some 10 terabytes of data flow into the system from abroad each month, compared with only about three terabytes of domestic traffic.
Last year, the AVCC adopted new pricing arrangements so that the cost of using AARNet was significantly lower for material from Australian sites, relative to that coming in internationally. The aim was to reduce reliance on overseas sources of data and to encourage academics to develop their own web sites or to cache foreign material locally.
Mr McLaughlin said a mirror site had now been created which mirrored all the large international software sites in the world. It was now serving Australians at up to 60 gigabytes a day, so instead of academics having to search overseas for new versions of Unix packages or the Netscape browser, they could pull the software directly from the AARNet mirror site. This was probably saving Australia $50,000 a month, he said.
The next step would be to enable academics to use AARNet as a telephone system when making long-distance calls. This would mean someone in Melbourne could ring a colleague in Perth for the cost of a local call.