A Climate of Change for the Caribbean Internet

Spring storms with winter qualities clobbered North America this week, threatening Canada with slow-moving storms, and pounding the United States with near-record snowfall in the midwest, low temperatures in the south and tornadoes further east. You could say change was in the air.

And although the unseasonable weather didn't reach as far south as Florida, the climate of change still dominated the atmosphere at the fifteenth regional meeting of the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), held in downtown Miami from April 18 to 20.

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Barbados to Host Inaugural Caribbean Interconnection and Peering Forum

Expanding the Caribbean Internet

Barbados to Host Inaugural Caribbean Interconnection and Peering Forum

By Bevil Wooding 

Some significant changes have been taking place in the hidden architecture of the Caribbean internet over the past few years. The seeds of change are evident in developments ranging from the proliferation of Internet exchange points, a critical piece of Internet infrastructure that facilitates more efficient and secure internet traffic routing; to rollout of mobile broadband infrastructure, expanding the reach and speed to internet connectivity to hundreds of thousands of consumers across the region.

Access to broadband Internet services never been as ubiquitous, or as affordable. Internet speeds have also steadily increased, giving users access to new applications and new opportunities. Yet, for all the progress, there is still work to be done. The international content users seek has to be brought closer to home and more local content has to find its way onto the global Internet. How can this be effected? That’s where the local IXPs come in.

Role of the Local IXs

The over 400 Internet exchange points (IXPs) that exist around the world, serve as a catalyst to enrich a country’s Internet ecosystem. At the technical level, Internet exchange points are about improving security, speed and network resilience. From a development standpoint, however, local IXPs are about creating new incentives for local business and entrepreneurs to delivering new local services for the benefit of local Internet users, and develop the domestic Internet economy.

IXPs also attract content providers, such as Netflix, Akamai, Yahoo! and Google with the promise of a convenient and low cost point from which they can connect to multiple ISP networks.  Several of the young Caribbean exchanges are already benefitting from this. By connecting their servers to a local IXP, content providers can move their content shorter distances to get to customers. Likewise, ISPs connected to the IXP also have a shorter distance to connect to the content their customers crave. In the networking business, shorter is cheaper. Therefore, the closer content providers can deliver content to ISP customers and the closer ISPs are to the content their customers want, the more cost-effective it is for everyone.

The Power of a Handshake

Parties that interconnect at an IXP are called “peers” and their peering relationships are vital to the functioning of the global internet. But these peering relationships do not happen automatically. Realizing the larger economic and societal benefits of exchange points requires deliberate effort, clear strategy and ever-expanding peering connections to new content and new networks.

According to Internet Traffic Exchange: Market Developments and Policy Challenges an OECD report on Internet traffic exchange, most of the thousands of networks that exchange this traffic do so without a written contract or formal agreement.

In a blog post on the findings of the report, Rudolf Van der Berg of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Science, Technology and Industry Directorate wrote:

“The report provides evidence that the existing Internet model works extremely well, has boosted growth and competition and brought prices for data down to 100,000 times less than that of a voice minute. A survey of 4300 networks, representing 140,000 direct exchanges of traffic, so called peerings, on the Internet, found that 99.5% of “peering agreements” were on a handshake basis, with no written contract and the exchange of data happening with no money changing hands.”

Van De Berg’s post went on to explain, “These peering agreements save both parties money and improve quality for their users at the same time. The alternative is to pay third parties, so-called transit providers, which still remains necessary to reach all networks. Paying for transit currently costs between $2 and $150 per Mbit/s per month, depending on country and competition, irrespective of whether a network sends or receives it.”

A generally accepted way of facilitating these handshake agreements is via special peering forums. Peering forums are essentially networking events to encourage interconnection among networks, content, cloud, and digital media organizations and related entities. At these events network operators and content providers get together to hammer out deals and build and cement relationships that underpin the growth interconnectivity and resilience of the global Internet.

Caribbean Peering Forum

The Caribbean will be having its first such forum, dubbed the Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum (CarPIF), from 27 – 28 May 2015. Designed as a multi-stakeholder forum, CarPIF is expected to see participation from high-level industry stakeholders, including: infrastructure providers, Service Providers, IXPs, governments and regulators.

The event is being hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), in conjunction with Packet Clearing House (PCH) and the Internet Society (ISOC). These organizations have all been at the forefront of promoting development of the Internet in the Caribbean.

“CarPIF will provide participants with regional as well as global insights on how the Caribbean can maximize the opportunities that can be derived for greater interconnection and peering,” said Ms. Bernadette, Secretary General of the CTU.

Shernon Osepa, ISOC Regional Coordinator and a co-organizer of the event shared, “CPIF will address key interconnection challenges and opportunities, including: national and cross-border interconnection possibilities; strategies for encouraging and increasing local digital content development; and opportunities for content delivery network operators in the Caribbean.”

Positive Sign

The staging of a Caribbean peering event is definitely a positive sign that networks in the region are on a good development path. With each new local IXP, individual nations get a more robust, more secure and more economical domestic Internet.

The result is greater opportunity for intra-regional Internet traffic exchange, greater incentive for hosting Caribbean content within the region and greater likelihood of attracting international content providers and incenting them to stage their content within the region. Altogether, this is better for consumers and businesses, better for spurring new enterprise, and better for strengthening the Caribbean Internet economy.

Bevil Wooding is the an Internet Strategist with US-based research firm Packet Clearing House and the founder and Executive Director of BrightPath Foundation, an technology education non-profit organization. Reach him on Twitter @bevilwooding or on facebook.com/bevilwooding or contact via email at technologymatters@brightpathfoundation.org.