Internet Exchange Points Critical to the Caribbean Digital Economy

Mark Vanterpool, Vice-president of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and Minister of Communications and Works, Government of the British Virgin Islands.
Mark Vanterpool, Vice-president of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and Minister of Communications and Works, Government of the British Virgin Islands.

Caribbean nations need to strengthen their Internet infrastructure if the region is to take full advantage of the global digital economy.

This was the view expressed by Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) vice president Mark Vanterpool, speaking at the official launch of CTU’s ICT Week on the 29th September 2015 in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI).

Vanterpool, the Minister for Communications and Works in the BVI, used his country as an example of the benefits of investing in Internet infrastructure. He singled out the role of the local Internet exchange points, commonly called IXPs, as one of the key enablers of the Caribbean digital economy.

He explained that local IXPs reduce costs and increase efficiency by allowing networks to interconnect directly to exchange Internet traffic, rather than having to connect through third-party networks.

“Here in the Virgin Islands, we understood the importance of establishing a local IXP, and today we are happy to say that we have benefitted from having one of the very first IXPs established in the region. This was implemented with significant support from the CTU, to whom we remain grateful,” Vanterpool said.

The BVI’s IXP was established in June 2011 with technical and policy assistance from the CTU and Packet Clearing House (PCH), a US-based non-profit organization responsible for support for critical Internet infrastructure globally.

Vanterpool noted that while the full potential of the BVI’s IXP is yet to be unleashed locally, other countries throughout the region should take steps to adopt their own local IXPs.

“More has to be done to realize the full benefits of this development. Accordingly, I would like to see more emphasis toward adding value to our IXP, by exploring opportunities for data centres, data storage and local content.”

“I urge my fellow member states in the CTU to also implement a national IXP which, when joined with the other IXPs in the region, will be a powerful catalyst for regional growth and development,” the minister added.

Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist and Caribbean Outreach Manager for PCH, confirmed that the BVI was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to establish a local IXP.

“Packet Clearing House is working closely with the CTU and its member states to strengthen existing exchange points in the region,” Wooding said. “PCH is also collaborating with the CTU and the Caribbean Network Operators Group to support development of new IXPs and strengthening of technical capacity across the region.”

Google, Netflix to join Caribbean Internet providers for CarPIF

By Gerard Best

If you live in the Caribbean, you don’t need to be a computer expert to know that the region’s Internet services need to improve.
If your connection falters so often that you’ve long since stopped calling customer service for redress, then you’ve got a pretty good idea about the challenges of regional connectivity.
Or if you’ve ever tried to launch a web-based startup, but have found yourself at a competitive disadvantage simply because download or upload speeds aren’t cutting it, then you have already have a decent understanding of why the region needs more robust Internet infrastructure.
No further expertise needed.
Of course, fixing the underlying issues that cause those problems is another matter, requiring technical expertise, commerce negotiations and a healthy dose of good old-fashioned collaboration.
That’s precisely the mission of the Bevil Wooding, Shernon Osepa and a volunteer group of Caribbean Internet experts going by the name CaribNOG. They are behind the upcoming Caribbean Peering and Interconnection Forum (CarPIF) to be held in Barbados from May 27 to 28.
The event is being organised by the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), with support from Packet Clearing House (PCH), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU). It will bring together high-level Internet industry players from across the region and around the world.
It marks the first time that Caribbean Internet service providers and major international content providers such as Google, Akamai and Netflix, will be gathering in the Caribbean for this kind of interaction, said Wooding, Internet Strategist with PCH.
“Internet Peering fora are commonplace in other regions of the world. They are used to bring Internet service providers and content providers from across the spectrum of the Internet ecosystem into one space to build relationships, broker agreements and discuss matters related to the development and strengthening of the peering relationships that underpin the Internet,” Wooding told the Guardian.
As an outcome of the upcoming CarPIF, regional consumers can look forward to a more stable, resilient, efficient Caribbean Internet, he said.

Growing Caribbean Internet economy
Shernon Osepa, Manager, Regional Affairs for Latin America and the Caribbean at ISOC, said “the forum is a testament to the growth and maturity that has taken place in the Caribbean Internet landscape over the past few years.”
He explained that the meeting will address “strategies for encouraging and increasing local digital content development, and opportunities for content delivery network operators in the Caribbean.”
Internet exchange point (IXP) operators, infrastructure providers, Internet service providers (ISPs), policymakers and regulators make up the list of registered attendees for the event. The wide range of participants will gain valuable insight into “how the Caribbean can maximise the opportunities that can be derived for greater interconnection and peering,” said Bernadette Lewis, secretary general of the CTU.
That organisation has been playing a major role in bringing regional governments into a greater appreciation of the value of creating a healthy regional Internet ecosystem. Strengthening the region’s critical Internet infrastructure is now widely understood to be a necessary first step to strengthening its Internet economy, as online commerce remains a largely underexploited way for local businesses to deliver local services for local Internet users.

Columbus’ Cache Machine: Supporting the Regional Internet Economy

By Gerard Best

Craig Nesty, left, Executive Director of Dominica's National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC); Nico Scheper, Business Development Manager, Amsterdam Internet Exchange for the Caribbean; Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President of Network Services for the southern Caribbean at Columbus Communications, take part in a panel discussion at the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum, held at the World Trade Centre, Willemstad, Curacao on September 11, 2013.
Craig Nesty, left, Executive Director of Dominica’s National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC); Nico Scheper, Business Development Manager, Amsterdam Internet Exchange for the Caribbean; Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President of Network Services for the southern Caribbean at Columbus Communications, take part in a panel discussion at the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum, held at the World Trade Centre, Willemstad, Curacao on September 11, 2013.

WILLEMSTAD, Curaçao – Failing to convert brilliant business ideas to real returns is costing online entrepreneurs big time. That’s why in the Caribbean, stakeholders are starting to pay close attention to external factors impacting their bottom line.

One such factor is the underdevelopment of critical Internet infrastructure in the region. Across the Caribbean, local Internet service providers (ISPs) are paying overseas carriers to exchange local Internet traffic between their local networks. This is an unnecessarily costly and inefficient way of handling in-country exchange of Internet traffic. And naturally, that expense and inconvenience are borne by the end-user.

But there is a better way, according to Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President of Network and ICT Services for the southern Caribbean at Columbus Communications, a major player in the regional telecommunications landscape.

Speaking at the 9th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) held at the Curacao World Trade Centre on September 11, Prescod acknowledged that the region was heavily dependent on foreign infrastructure for Internet access, especially U.S. infrastructure. But he shared valuable insights on how Columbus was responding to the regional challenge.

Citing the example of Grenada, Prescod identified the island’s Internet Exchange Point (IXP) as a key component of the critical infrastructure that allowed Columbus to work with other ISPs to exchange local Internet traffic between their networks without cost. Through the IXP, Internet traffic originating in Grenada now terminates on other local networks without having to go through lengthy, expensive, international routes, he said.

In Curacao, Columbus joined that island’s IXP (AMS-IX Caribbean), and is now working to support the Exchange’s caching operations.

“There are two sides to caching,” Prescod explained. “One is the caching box, which provides the content to the users. But you also have to get that content. So we are actually engaged in Curacao to provide that foreign content for those providers, cache it, and then serve it to the users.

“So not only are we a member of the AMS-IX, but we also serve the global Internet to all of the caching boxes in Curacao today. In the interest of supporting the development of the broadband economy here in Curacao, we thought it was important we do so.”

Prescod is also one of the vice presidents of a third Caribbean Internet Exchange recently incorporated as a non-profit company in Trinidad and Tobago. And he is hopeful that the southernmost Caribbean island will be next in line to successfully establish a fully functional Exchange.

“At this time, we’ve only gotten consensus around seven Internet Service Providers that there should be an Exchange,” he said. “We’ve sort of decided on a technical model and we’re looking over the two to six months to implement that model.”

Prescod was speaking as part of a multinational, multi-stakeholder panel discussion in the morning session of the CIGF. Alongside him were Nico Scheper (Netherlands), Craig Nesty (Dominica) and Bevil Wooding (Trinidad and Tobago). Their discussion emphasised the essential link between the performance of critical Internet infrastructure and the stimulation of the Internet economy in the region.

“Establishing a local IXP can bring many benefits to Caribbean citizens, including faster domestic Internet traffic exchange and a more resilient local network,” said Wooding in a post-event interview.

He added, “IXPs are a critical component of the local Internet economy, but they’re not the only component.”

As a whole, the Caribbean region is served by only six IXPs. Apart from Curacao, they are in the British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Grenada, St Maarten and Dominica.

Stakeholders from the Caribbean and Latin America gathered in Curacao to engage discuss and develop policies and structures for regional Internet governance. The CIGF, which was organised by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union at the request of the CARICOM Secretariat, emphasises a multi-stakeholder approach to the development of regional Internet Governance policy, drawing on the expertise and experiences of policy makers, regulators, service providers, content providers, consumer groups, academia, professionals, end users and other Internet interest groups in the region.