Varna statement is probably the most important policy document developed by CEENet so far. It is still mentioned as fundamental support received from the community by many NRENs in the region of Central and Eastern Europe.
The document contains a set of conclusions and recommendations from the workshop “Policy Issues for NRENs in South East Europe” held on 7-9 September 2003 in Varna, Bulgaria (supported by NATO). It is meant to provide input to the agenda of decision makers responsible for policies on research and education, telecommunication, technical and economic developments of governments in South East Europe and of the European Union institutions.
The statement has been supported by more than fifty key representatives of National Research and Education Networks (NRENs), universities, governments and telecom operators in the South Eastern European region, representatives of the European Commission and the NATO Networking Panel.
The drive to the Information Society
The European Council has affirmed twice, at Lisbon in 2000 and at Barcelona in 2002, the critical nature of the speed and quality of development of the Information Society in Europe for the future of the continent’s economic prosperity. The aim is to make Europe, by 2010, the world’s leading knowledge based economy. There is no knowledge-based society without the appropriate information and communication infrastructure. Participation in the development and establishment of the information society is a question of autonomy and competitiveness for each and every nation.
The research and education community is the environment where new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and their applications, are conceived, prototyped and brought to life. This community is the place in which the first, reallife, nation-wide tests of many of these techniques are conducted, and further developed. Every year the research and education community generates a new cohort of citizens trained in the latest and most advanced applications of the Information Society, who move on from their education to join the workforce.
The leading role of NRENs
In order to fulfill its research and teaching roles effectively, each national academic community needs advanced and stable infrastructure and services, which are growing increasingly important in the modern practice of research and teaching. It is not possible to rely solely on the market forces for the provision of these services,and they require a strong, dynamic, stable, professional, not-for-profit organisation in each country, in order to build, maintain and develop the necessary communication infrastructure.
The role of this organisation – the National Research and Education Network (NREN) - is not only to provide services reactively, at the request from the user community, but also to act proactively as a national focus, inspiring, designing and deploying advanced and innovative projects and services which rely on human resources coming from the research and education community itself. It is very important for the NREN to ensure that services required by its users are provided at an appropriate quality level.
Government interest in supporting NRENs
In a region where governments have to face a multitude of economical and social problems, they might tend to perceive investments in NRENs and state of the art ICT as being of low priority and something that should wait for “better times”. However, in order to help speed-up the construction of the Information Society in each country, it is in the best interest of the nation and government to establish and support an NREN.
The governments concerned need to understand that, over the coming decades,investments in NRENs and ICT will be important elements in the creation of economic prosperity and autonomy, and vital for achieving a better national future. Therefore, NRENs and the general Internet require investments and care from governments because it should be a national priority to make advanced services available to the broadest audience as soon as possible, in order to capture their creative and innovative potential and to supply them with latest knowledge and information.
Twenty years of European experience show that it is crucial to have only one NREN per country, and that it should be an autonomous legal entity in charge of all education and research needs, answering to a board which represents the major stakeholders. In the medium-term it is best if the NREN is mainly funded via its user community, but it is hard to do that successfully until the user community is itself assured of adequate funding, and possesses sufficient awareness of the importance and role of ICT and NRENs. Accordingly, in an initial phase the efficiency and impact of the NREN can be optimized by direct and full finance from the government budget.
The scope of NRENs
Standard Internet services, which are available at an affordable price to all citizens and enterprises, are important in the process of developing the Information Society. An NREN’s role of providing advanced and innovative services for a specific group of users, and an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) role of making available general Internet services for the whole population are different and complementary, and governments need to ensure that both functions are being well met. Over time the advanced services provided by the NREN will find their way into the standard offerings of the ISPs, but at the same time the services required from the NREN will advance further. To ensure ongoing complementarity between the general commercial offerings of ISPs and the advanced services provided by NRENs for their own well-defined communities, it is important that NRENs should have clear, wellpublicised and effectively monitored Acceptable Use Policies.
Research and education, exchanging knowledge and ideas, exploring and experimenting are the most important activities for the future of the citizens and are no longer confined to universities but are happening everywhere. In some European countries, especially smaller ones, the government has been very successful in expanding the scope of the NREN to include other communities beyond the traditional ones of research centres, universities and higher educational institutes. Some of the communities that have been included in various countries are secondary and elementary education as well as NGOs, libraries, hospitals and other types of public, non-profit access points.However, it is also important for NRENs to keep in mind that they should avoid being in any way in competition with commercial ISPs. NRENs are needed to provide advanced services, which are not normally available on the market, for a welldefined community. If they are under strong economic pressure NRENs may be tempted to improve their financial situation by offering commercial services. NRENs should avoid this at all costs, else they will come to be seen as competitors of ISPs, and in the medium term they will lose the justification for their existence, activity and operation.
The importance of the infrastructure and the government’s role
The communication backbone is a vitally important infrastructure for the NREN user community. It will inevitably be one of the most advanced and large-scale infrastructures in the country.
In order to make an adequate communication infrastructure available to the research and education communities via the NREN, governments have a special role and obligation.