CARNet's 1995 projection was that, after deregulation of telecommunication market (in 2003), major part of its connectivity services will become commodity products and, due to the economy of scale, would be available at a price on the market. This, however, meant that CARNet would have to cease to operate its communication infrastructure as a private network, and be buying the service. The only exception would be much smaller experimental test bed used for piloting new technologies and services not yet available on the market.
However, this did not and will not happen in the next several years (to 2004 and beyond). There are several reasons for that, all mutually intertwined and interdependent:
usage of ICT did not grow as expected and penetration to various activities was still very low, making the market still weak;
government has not initiated informatization of public services, which would stimulate consumption and development of public networking infrastructure; and
monopoly has been prolonged (to 2004) allowing high prices.
Therefore, CARNet has to continue operating and enhancing its private network. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult due to the fact that:
after privatisation of the national telecomm operator (HT) the monopoly period has been prolonged. Private owner (Deutsche Telekom) has increased prices and shows no interest for special arrangements with CARNet. Instead, CARNet is treated as its competitor;
HT is technically and organizationally not able to provide advanced services;
HT does not want to sell low level services like copper lines or dark fibre (unbundling the local loop) which would allow CARNet to install its own advanced equipment; and
HT is forcing CARNet to use its medium level services like 2 Mpbs digital lines, but even with the contract signed, HT does not deliver them at all, or does so with unacceptable delays of more than six months.
Continuation of this situation is making CARNet network obsolete fast. A solution must be found and implemented quickly. Currently, CARNet has been seeking its own way out in two directions: technological and legislative.
Technologically, CARNet has been piloting wireless LAN/MAN sub-networks (2.4 GHz spread-spectrum de-regulated solutions). On the legislative side, CARNet is exploring cooperation with other would-be providers after complete de-monopolization of telecommunications that is expected to occur in the coming years, as well as possibility to partner with owners of eligible infrastructure even before de-monopolization. For example, the town sewage company owns drainage system connecting every building in the town. Thus, a pilot project is running exploring technical, organizational and legal aspects of using sewage system to deploy CARNet's own fibre infrastructure within the city. Further, the national power company has already laid fibres in the cables of the power lines connecting cities. Partnering with them would enable CARNet to have alternative supplier of connections on the national level.
These potential alternative telecommunication providers appear to be showing some interest, though it does not seem to be strong enough probably because they do not yet know where to start. In addition, all of those companies are still state owned and are waiting for the privatisation decisions from the government.
On the international level, in these ten years, CARNet has been a user of European networking infrastructure, being connected to the node in Vienna. It has always been CARNet's vision to become the connecting network between the neighbouring countries. However, it has not been possible due to the lack of traffic interest among the western neighbours as well as due to the lack of political will to approach the eastern neighbours. Fortunately, new EU project GEANT has decided to establish a POP (Point Of Presence) in Croatia, thus connecting CARNet with the Austrian and Hungarian Networks. This gives hopes and represents a foundation for possible establishing of connection between CARNet and other networks in the eastern countries.
Deploying a national networking infrastructure and establishing a wide range of services was a huge enterprise with no previous example in the country. CARNet was concentrating on fulfilling those tasks and believed that all users will eagerly embrace and use them as soon as they were available.
It did not seem to be the case, so CARNet had decided to shift the emphasis to facilitating and stimulating the usage and implementation of ICT in the academic community's life and work. In a number of surveys, CARNet was asking users about their ideas of innovative usage of ICT in what they do. The response was more than weak. It seems they may lack knowledge and experience to answer the questions regarding their primary needs or problems that ICT can fulfil or solve, not yet being able to consider how to plan to use ICT.
However, CARNet cannot fulfill this assignment alone. Students are the key alliance, because their requirements towards universities will create the demand and need for ICT. University administrations and Ministry can and should influence the change by launching projects and imposing various standards and requirements on level and quality of education and research.
The soft, passive role by promoting, influencing market, students and graduates and educating project leaders have been assumed by CARNet. This role should be intensified by increasing the number of employees, organization partnerships and omnipresent promotion.
However, the active form basically has not been used. Government did not launch into "informatization" of public systems like health, education, government administration or judicial system (European Commission, 2000). Those who initiate similar projects on institutional level seem not to understand the importance of project preparation and management and/or to recognise CARNet as eligible partner and resource of knowledge and experience.
As an example, primary and secondary school system is not only very similar to academic community but also naturally connected. CARNet experiences, infrastructure and services could be easily used, multiplied, cloned for the educational community. So far, there have been no requirements towards CARNet from the authorities despite CARNet showing willingness to take part and sending active messages regarding it.
The issues are:
how to raise awareness of authorities for the needs of huge ICT systems and CARNet's possible role in their establishment;
when awareness becomes present and demand for CARNet participation significantly outgrows CARNet's current capacities, should a new agency be formed, commercial spin-offs stimulated or CARNet repositioned and reshaped; and
all activities performed by CARNet so far are only a small fraction of the change agent's activities. In Croatia there is no other example of a change agent and even on the global scene there are few with the nationwide role. Thus, the question is: where to gain required knowledge in order to become a true and successful change agent on the national scale.
From the very first day of CARNet, people were the primary resource. CARNet always looked forward to "people flow" through the organization since it helps influencing society and transferring knowledge and organizational culture. However, to run efficient services and projects and to create, develop, maintain its own culture and transfer it to the novices, an organisation needs a core of "old" professionals. Market demand for such people is tremendous and their price is rocketing. CARNet has not even begun to fill all the job vacancies, especially in top management positions.
CARNet, being financed by the budget, has serious limitations not only in the area of salaries but also in a number of other expenditures like education, travel, equipment, office comfort, etc.
The issue, at present, seems to be how to attract and retain key personnel. So far, motivation was based on challenging projects, learning and education, warm-hearted atmosphere. However, the key personnel that grew with CARNet and is getting older, forming families, thinking about the career seems to be shifting emphasis on the importance of financial compensations.
This need can be met in two ways:
CARNet should ensure some kind of additional income that could be used for increasing salaries and other expenses or
key personnel should have reduced working hours and be allowed to earn additional income working on projects both in CARNet and outside.
There is a range of reasons to commercialise some of CARNet services:
getting all required finances from the budget is becoming increasingly difficult with growing suggestions to commercialize some of the services;
there appear to be emerging potential customers outside academic community interested in some of the services like education, connectivity, consultancy, project management, etc.;
there are views that if academic community were to pay for some of the services, they would value and use them more; and
some of human resources requirements could be fulfilled with additional, non-budget income.
The negative sides of commercialisation cover:
the fear that budget sums might be decreased even more because of false expectations that everything could be commercialised, which is not true for the backbone and international connectivity;
discounts for educational and non-profit organizations currently used might no longer be applicable;
tensions among employees working on profitable projects and those on budget would be developing; and
the basic role of academic and research community is centred on the area which is rarely profitable which transposes to corresponding ARNET activities.
There is evidence and examples on international scene that there exists interest in charitable and non-profit financing of activities similar to CARNet's. This might prove to be a significant source of income and replacement for expected budget cuts. The issue is whether to establish a fund raising department or to form a separate trust or foundation that would primarily finance CARNet's activities.