The recent federal budget announced continued funding for CANARIE, the national research and innovation network. This was both good and not so good news.
The reduced allocation was no surprise in a restraint budget but the two year mandate was. Normally CANARIE has been given a five year mandate. Five years is a good amount of time to plan, execute, evaluate, and prepare again. Networks and network services are complex; they require careful thought and they take time to evolve.
A two year mandate from government suggests uncertainty. And that is a concern.
The noise about R&D leading up to the federal budget was quite loud. The attempts to address it were modest. Lost in this was the critical role networks play in Canada’s R&D capability.
The problem is that CANARIE and other regional networks are invisible and taken for granted. It’s the tragedy of the commons. It is very hard to make real and apparent the value.
Infrastructure in the digital realm is not obvious like bricks and mortar. The cables are buried, the routes are hidden in closets, and the technology is in high security buildings few of us see. It invites neglect
At the same time, the good folks at CANARIE and the other networks (e.g. ORION, Cybera, BCNet, and the others) are always planning to expand the networks, increase capacity and reliability, and to add additional services and tools to support R&D.
Does the reduced term of the mandate signal that the government is having second thoughts about CANARIE?
If so it should think carefully. The networks are vital to the support of the R&D agenda and capacity. They may be invisible but if they disappear (or transition to an organization less sensitive to R&D) Canadians in all sectors will be diminished.