Hotline between RUG and Yantai

Internet in Yantai will be the same as at the RUG. There will be a hotline, a private fibreglass connection, between the universities. This means that employees and students of the University Groningen Yantai (UGY) can exchange data and use the internet without restrictions imposed by the Chinese government.
By Rob Siebelink / Translation by Alain Reniers

China blocks internet services like Gmail, Facebook and Twitter. This is circumvented with a ‘private’ connection between Groningen and Yantai. Free internet is one of the preconditions of the Ministry of Education and the University Council to make the RUG’s branch campus in China possible.

‘We have a private cable that we own,’ says Louwarnoud van der Duim of the CIT at the RUG. ‘What we put in on one end will arrive unfiltered on the other end and vice versa,’ he says. RUG director Jan de Jeu: ‘Yantai and Groningen will be one system outside of the Chinese limitations.’

VPN not an option

Many foreign organisations and companies in China still use a so-called VPN connection to circumvent the Great Firewall of China. This allows them to use Gmail, Facebook and other internet services. Many Chinese people also do this. For this reason, the Chinese authorities have restricted VPN as of late. ‘This is no longer an option,’ Van der Duim says. ‘With our own cable, there are no intermediaries.’

The RUG wants to use an existing data connection between China and Europe that travels through Russia. Part of the capacity of that cable is ‘leased’. Van der Duim: ‘There are in fact two cables that are several hundred kilometres apart. If one shuts down – like if a cable is ripped apart due to construction – then the other will take over.’

Only on campus

Free internet in Yantai is limited to the campus. An entirely new digital infrastructure needs to be installed in the research facilities, lecture halls and the student and employee accommodations. This is more than Groningen has to offer now, says De Jeu: ‘Eduroam in Groningen is limited to the RUG buildings; in Yantai, it will cover the entire campus.’ People living or working outside of the campus will have to deal with the Chinese restrictions.

The staff and student groups in the University Council take up a cautiously positive stance regarding a private cable connection. But they want to see how it works in practice, first. The RUG’s CIT has visited a number of major international companies in Yantai and its surrounding region in the past months that are already using a private data connection. ‘We first want to see this report to find out how it actually works,’ Nina de Winter of student party Lijst Calimero says.

The University Council also wonders how secure a private cable is. There are no absolute guarantees, Van der Duim of CIT admits. It is always possible that the data traffic between Yantai and Groningen will be tapped, he says. ‘The cable between Yantai and Groningen covers a quarter of the globe. You never know who’s watching. But that’s not a new thing. It applies to all the internet traffic in the Netherlands and anywhere else in the world.’

The photo shows the campus’ main building in Yantai. To its left, currently a construction site, will be the Faculty of Science and Engineering.




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