Beijing urged to continue with link financing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 1998, 12:00am

The mainland's Cernet backbone, linking more than 300 universities, will play an essential role in preparing the next generation of Chinese for the global information society, an academic says.

Tsinghua University's Professor Li Xing said Beijing needed to support Cernet financially.

'Cernet is very important for the development of China's information infrastructure,' Prof Li said.

Cernet, which stands for China Education and Research Network, was created in 1994 to act as a nationwide backbone connecting eight regional networks with each other and the Internet.

In 1995, the network had 108 universities and used a 64 kbps backbone and a 128 kbps connection to the United States.

By the end of last year, the backbone had been upgraded to 512 kbps and a 2 mbps line to the US had been added, as well as direct connections to academic networks in Germany and Hong Kong. By that time, 314 universities were connected to Cernet.

The project initially was funded by Beijing and managed by the State Education Commission.

However, at the beginning of last year, Cernet moved to a self-funded model, with the telecommunications and equipment-maintaining fees being shared by all the connected universities.

Prof Li said several ways of charging universities had been examined, including a flat rate and IP accounting, whereby universities were charged depending on the amount of bandwidth used.

However, Prof Li said both models had drawbacks.

For instance, a flat rate would encourage universities to use the network as much as possible. This would cause the network to become overburdened.

Meanwhile, the IP accounting model would mean universities being charged for overseas users accessing their Web sites, which would discourage innovation.

As a result, the Cernet Centre chose a hybrid model under which each university pays a flat monthly fee based on the connection speed, which covers all domestic exchange and international outbound traffic.

International inbound traffic is not covered by the monthly fee and has to be paid as an additional cost by each university.

The objective of this rather complicated model was to try to be fair to the universities, encourage connected universities to provide more information, discourage the waste of the expensive international link and keep the network easier to scale, Prof Li said.

He was against making Cernet self-funding. 'I believe you have to pay some money, but actually at present, the universities pay too much.' Instead he called for continued central government support for the network's operation and maintenance.

As proof of the importance of Cernet in developing Internet usage in China, Prof Li said research showed most Internet users on the mainland were aged between 21 and 30, which suggested that many were students and possibly young teachers.

Prof Li's research also shows disparities among Internet users. For instance, 88 per cent of users are male. 'That's very poor,' he said.

Also, most users are based in Beijing, which also has the most ISPs (Internet service providers), and most are in computer-related professions or education, with average income of between 400 yuan and 1,000 yuan a month (about HK$372 and $930).

'I believe our goal is to get a uniform distribution of location, age, profession and income,' Prof Li said. He believed Cernet could help in this goal.