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New GÉANT-led project to create a regional research and education network in eastern Europe and southern Caucasus

The EaPConnect project sets out to create a regional research and education network in eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus. This will interconnect the NRENs in six EaP countries and integrate them into the pan-European GÉANT network. The overall objective of EaPConnect is to decrease the 'digital divide', improve intra-regional connectivity, and facilitate participation of local scientists, students, and academics in global collaborations. Image courtesy European Commission (©EU).

Last month, the European Commission signed a €13m (~$14.5m) contract with the networking organization GÉANT to expand connectivity in the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries. The project aims at creating a regional high-speed internet network dedicated to research and education across Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. It will interconnect the national research and education networks (NRENs) in the EaP partner countries, and will integrate them in the pan-European GÉANT network.

Two million scientists, academics, and students at over 700 institutions across the region will benefit from the connectivity boost. This high-speed broadband network will enable access and exchange between scientific databases, and will facilitate international cooperation via faster data transfer. In addition, EaPConnect will promote increased coverage of wireless network access for students and researchers.

At the 2013 Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, the heads of state and government of the EU member states and the six EaP countries encouraged the setting up of a 'common knowledge and innovation space'. At the recent summit in Riga on 22 May 2015, they also recognized the digital economy as an area with yet untapped potential for both the EU and the partners. EaPConnect will provide a regional gateway to the research and education community to pursue these goals.

“The EU has a vision for global collaboration to bridge the digital divide,” says Gerhard Schumann-Hitzler, director of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR). “The EaPConnect project is a central part of this strategy which is fully shared by partner countries. It reflects our joint will to increase collaboration in the field of research and education in view of closer links between people and businesses.''

The overall objective of EaPConnect is to improve intra-regional high-speed connectivity across Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.

GÉANT is Europe's leading collaboration on network and related infrastructure and services for the benefit of research and education, contributing to Europe's economic growth and competitiveness. The organization develops, delivers and promotes advanced network and associated e-infrastructure services, and supports innovation and knowledge-sharing amongst its members, partners and the wider research and education networking community.

“Today's research community needs to be truly global if it is to solve the challenges humanity faces,” says Pierre Bruyère, chairman of the GÉANT board of directors. “The creation of the EaPConnect network is a natural progression into fostering worldwide collaboration in research and education.”

By enabling fast and reliable exchange of high volumes of data between scientists in the EaP countries and their peers in Europe, as well as further afield, EaPConnect will facilitate collaborative research in areas such as environmental monitoring, telemedicine, life sciences, and physics. In addition, stable videoconferencing will support e-learning initiatives or simply enable artists, thousands of miles apart, to perform together in near-real time.

EaPConnect is expected to run for five years and will be managed by the networking organization GÉANT in collaboration with the NRENs in the six partner countries. The European Commission provides 95% of the project costs. The remaining 5% will be raised by GÉANT from the EaP countries.

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