An NREN’s positioning vis-à-vis commercial ISPs

Inevitably the roles and activities of an NREN impact upon those of commercial service providers as participants in a competitive industry, and it is important for an NREN’s management to think about and manage the NREN’s relations with commercial ISPs.

One objective is to cultivate the ISP’s understanding and respect for the NREN’s developmental role; its non-profit nature, and its restriction to serving only research and education institutions.  This can be done by:


  • Active membership in and participation in the conferences and projects of national industry associations;
  • Settlement-free peering with all-comers at local Internet exchanges;
  • sharing open content (e.g. open source software distributions) hosted on the NREN’s mirror servers with local ISPs; and by
  • never entering into a direct bidding competition with any commercial ISP.

The following story illustrates the last bullet point. Some ten or more years ago, a parastatal research institution – let me call it “the PSRI” – wanted to connect to its local NREN and use the NREN’s services.  Mindful of his institution’s public-sector nature and concomitant procurement processes and regulations, the ICT Director planned to issue a public call for bids from duly licensed operators to provide Internet services, and wanted the NREN to submit a bid.

The NREN replied that it would not compete directly for business with commercial ISPs and would not respond to a call for bids in any competitive tender process.   However, it stressed that PSRI was eligible to become a member of the NREN and, as such, to order the NREN’s services.

Consequently the choice the PSRI had to make was the following:  Shall we proceed with the call for tenders from commercial operators, knowing that our NREN will submit no bid; or shall we abandon the formal call for tenders and instead become a member of the NREN, purchase the Internet services we require from it, and so doing become part of the Global REN?  Happily, the PSRI decided to join the NREN!

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