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Brussels, 21 September 2010

Digital Agenda: €5 million EU funding helps turn the ancient Silk Road into ultra-fast research and education highway

The European Commission today helped to increase the internet capacity available to researchers in the Central Asia region (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). With the Commission's €5 million contribution to the Central Asia Research and Education Network (CAREN), the ancient Silk Road has been upgraded to a 21st century high-speed internet highway for research and education. Researchers, academics and students in the region now have access to high-capacity internet connections, offering them unrivalled opportunities to play a major role on the international research scene. With Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also candidate countries to join the network, CAREN will link over half a million users at more than 500 universities and research centres

Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda said: "CAREN reflects the Commission’s strategy to address an important gap in Europe’s global infrastructure for research by providing high-capacity, yet cost-effective data communications links with Central Asia. It reduces the digital divide and contributes to the modernisation and development of research and education in the region.”

"Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, said: "This project will facilitate and improve work of more than 500 000 researchers in Central Asia. Supporting high education and internet connection is an investment to shape better future of Central Asia's innovation centres. I'm confident that EU aid will have a high impact on the economic growth of the countries".

The Central Asia Research and Education (CAREN) launched officially today in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, gives around half a million researchers in the region access to the large databases and massive processing power needed for cutting-edge research that will directly benefit the region. For example, in this earthquake-prone zone, at the intersection of the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates, high-speed CAREN links will allow scientists to access and exchange seismic data from monitoring stations in near-real time. This will improve hazard assessment and effective disaster risk management, for example by linking researchers at the Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG) in Kyrgyzstan with their colleagues at the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ).

Various other areas benefit from the improved internet capacity, including tele-medicine initiatives in Tajikistan, planned textile research collaborations between the London College of Fashion and partner colleges in Tashkent, and environmental monitoring of the Issyk-Kul basin between the Kyrgyz Institute of Physics and partner institutes in Germany and the USA. Various distance learning projects are already underway, such as in Turkmenistan in collaboration with the Technical University of Hamburg and the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Various presentations on such joint European-Central Asian initiatives at the launch event today underlined the potential of the CAREN network for increased collaboration.

In addition to the provision of high-speed connections between scientists across the region, thanks to the interconnection with its pan-European counterpart GÉANT, CAREN also links them to the global research and education community. Researchers can browse through digital libraries, access geographically distributed databases, share remote scientific instruments and exchange swiftly and reliably large amounts of data across the world.

Co-funded by the European Commission’s Europe Aid Cooperation Office, CAREN receives 80% (€5 million) of its €6.25 million budget from the European Commission, with the remaining fund being provided by the beneficiary countries on a cost-sharing basis. The project is operated and managed by research networking organisation DANTE, in conjunction with the National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) of the participating countries.


CAREN builds on the achievements of the NATO-funded Silk project which introduced research networking with the Caucasus and Central Asia. Originally deploying low-capacity satellite technology, it has more recently started upgrading to terrestrial fibre optics. With NATO funding in Central Asia ending in June 2010, CAREN has taken over the provision of connectivity serving research and education in Central Asia.

Launched in 2000, GÉANT now has high speed links to Asia, the Mediterranean, Southern Africa, Latin America (IP/08/354) and the Black Sea (IP/09/407). It also connects Pakistan to the global research community (IP/08/1590) and Europe's fusion research community with its supercomputing centres (IP/09/117). The European Commission’s supports GÉANT through its Research Framework Programme with funding amounting to €93 million for the period 2009-2013.

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