Tech Matters: Building the Human Networking to Grow the Caribbean Internet

by Bevil Wooding

The inaugural Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Connection Forum (CarPIF), held in Barbados last April, quietly marked the opening of a new chapter in the development of the Internet in the Caribbean.
Such gatherings, called peering forums, are designed to bring together senior decision makers from internet service providers, cloud providers, content delivery networks and other related entities in a neutral environment to discuss the interconnection of their networks. Peering forums are commonplace in other regions, from Europe and North America, to Africa and Latin America.

Peering Matters

Why are peering forums important? Simple – Interconnection of the computer networks that comprise the Internet is dependent on human networking to establish those connections. The functionality we enjoy when we view a photograph, watch a video posted by someone half-way around the world, or send an email to a friend in a distant land is brought about by the decision of network and cloud service providers to interconnect their network. The quality of the service we receive from those providers is dependent, among other things, on how far or near those interconnection points are from sender and the recipient.
This is why CarPIF was such a special and historic event. It was the first time such a forum was organized to specifically encourage greater interconnection among providers delivering Internet content and services to Caribbean consumers. It was also the first time the economic underpinnings of the peering arrangements that define the Internet, were discussed in such a context, using Caribbean data and Caribbean examples to a Caribbean audience.
Importantly, the event saw peering coordinators from the Caribbean building relationships directly with their international counterparts from major Internet companies such as Google and Akamai. Peering forums are a main way for service providers to establish the relationships and
agreements that allow them to get content closer to final destination. The actual events may not have public appeal, however, their outcomes can directly influence the quality of internet services, and economic opportunities in a region.

IXP Enabled Development
Peering can be defined as the exchange of data between IP networks on primarily a settlement free basis. Network providers such as Cable and Wireless, Sprint, Digicel and others own high-speed connections that make up the Internet. These providers transfer data between each other at locations called “peering” points or Internet Exchanges. At these sites the networks ‘meet’ or interconnection with one another over so called layer-2 infrastructure. These systems are then globally tied together by connecting high-capacity fiber optic lines owned by network service providers.
The proliferation of Internet exchange points in the Caribbean has created the opportunity for content providers to now deliver their content closer to Caribbean audiences. In practical terms, this can translate into a tangible improvement in the quality of Internet surfing experience for users. YouTube videos, for example, can be download with little to no buffering, because internet servers can deliver them from a local source, as opposed to a far way international source.
“The ever-increasing amount of video and other rich media content is placing new demands on the Internet. Peering is now an essential component of most network strategies to improve their customer experience and cost efficiencies,” said Martin Hannigan, Director, Networks and Data Center Architecture for Akamai Technologies, a major cloud computing services and content delivery network (CDN) provider.
“This Caribbean peering forum was a great opportunity to meet our customers in the region and establish important new connections. We are actively exploring options for putting our content caches at the internet exchange points that are being built in the Caribbean.”
In the past, when there were no internet exchange points in the Caribbean, service providers like LIME and Columbus (FLOW) would have to pick up the content all the way in Miami, or elsewhere, to deliver to local users. With the implementation of local IXPs in the Caribbean, ISPs can now all benefit by picking up the content users want to access much closer to home at content caches stored at the IXP. And that’s a good thing for Caribbean Internet users.

First of Many
The CarPIF event organized by the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), a volunteer-based community of Caribbean technology practitioners. It attracted over forty technology experts from major regional and international Internet companies, telecoms regulators and Internet exchange point operators to Barbados. Organizers intend to make it an annual event and plans are already afoot for a second, larger CarPIF event in Curacao in 2016.
The meeting was supported by two non-profit internet organizations, Packet Clearing House (PCH) and the Internet Society (ISOC), along with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union. It agenda included expert speakers from major internet organizations including Google, Akamai, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and the Latin American Internet Registry (LACNIC).

Milestone not Destination
The fact that the region’s first peering forum has been so successful is testament to the increasing maturity of the Caribbean Internet community, and the increasing regard for that community by international players in the Internet space.
There is certainly cause to celebrate the positive strides the Caribbean has made in deploying critical Internet infrastructure over the past few years. However, there is still considerable room for improvement, particularly as it relates to the reliability and efficiency delivery of Internet content to Caribbean consumers.
Implementation of some exchange points is still being hindered by oppositional and self-serving actions of dominant ISPs, seemingly to be desperate to cling to models of operation that are proven to not be in the interest of consumers or market growth.
There is also room for greater technical training and broader local community awareness and support, especially from developers of local content and services.
The process of changing attitudes, increasing awareness, encouraging innovation and fostering greater collaboration amongst competitors and encouraging will take time.
The inaugural CarPIF is a great milestone, but the journey to a more robust and resilient
Caribbean Internet has only just begun.

Bevil Wooding - Profile PhotoBevil Wooding is an Internet Strategist for Packet Clearing House (PCH), a US-based non-profit research organization. He is also a founding member of the Caribbean Network Operators Group. Follow on Twitter: @bevilwooding

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