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Funding and cost-benefits
Running and capital costs
In cases where the videoconferencing equipment forms part of specific research projects, the running and capital costs are met by grants and occasionally by computer company sponsorship. However, very few respondents reported a single source for their funding. In most cases, the money is collected together from a variety of sources, such as operating and general equipment budgets, university funds and presentation charges. For example:
The MBONE is a volunteer effort and, as such, is not specifically funded (although the provision of SuperJANET is often centrally funded via top-slicing).
- “Network costs, the codec and the echo canceller are funded centrally [by the Joint Network Team (JNT) and UKERNA]; a substantial part of the audio-visual equipment is funded by the Technology in Learning and Teaching Programme (TLTP); and the remaining costs are met by the University.”
- “Capital expenses are paid for by a special fund associated with the reorganisation of sites. Recurrent expenses are funded by the infrastructure budget.”
- “Through Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) grants and through the normal funding of the University Computing Service.”
Payment for presentations
Users were asked about payment for the presentations and the communication time used.
Usually the university or commercial research department that hosts or transmits the presentation pays for it. Where the Internet is used, nobody “pays” as such; the cost is absorbed in the total bill for leasing the lines used to carry the Internet traffic. (This is a slight oversimplification as some Internet service providers charge on a volume basis, rather than a one-off charge for a leased line.)
Added value afforded by videoconferencing
The following benefits were identified:
- Travel savings (money, time and energy and organisational hassle).
- Immediate face-to-face meetings, with meetings between multiple sites being easier to organise since no travel is involved. It can be faster than using the telephone and provides a more natural meeting. If there is more than one person at each end then video helps the flow of information even more. At some sites it is (currently!) a free alternative to phone calls since the SuperJANET bandwidth is already paid for.
- Attending conferences remotely is instructive and saves a lot of air fares.
- Better quality teaching.
- For developers, it is a friendly user environment in which to look for troubles, anticipate additional uses, etc.
- It helps collaborative working; a shared whiteboard very useful for brainstorming.
- There is a great community out there waiting to be tapped into.
Value for money
Most users gave very firm positive answers to this question, especially when looking long term. For some it affords the opportunity for lots more communication which is effectively free as the bandwidth is already paid for. (It was pointed out that this question becomes academic in cases where there is no direct recharging for use.)
One respondent described how people had the opportunity to back out of LIVENET when it was re-designed at the beginning of 1994. New system was installed and, far from people backing out, the current use has increased to 1000 hours of teaching plus meetings, workshops, etc.
In some cases the initial expense of the video network was justified on very specific grounds (such as the need to conduct teaching in the medium of the Welsh language).
However, others thought that videoconferencing is too expensive at present but has the potential to provide value for money in the future (although it is too early to say for sure). It is clear from the technical and usability problems cited later in this chapter that the promise is still to be delivered.
If the equipment is being used for educational purposes, it is essential that as many courses as possible take advantage of the facilities.
Virtual Environments Visualisation