St Lucia moves to develop domestic Internet Industry

Local Content Providers to Benefit from Domestic Internet Exchange Point

CASTRIES, St Lucia – Mrs. Allison Jean, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Works, Transport and Public Utilities, has declared Government’s intention to facilitate the establishment of an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) in St Lucia as a matter of national priority.

Speaking at a recent Caribbean Internet Exchange Point Awareness symposium hosted by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and US-based nonprofit research institute Packet Clearing House (PCH), Jean noted that IXPs were conspicuously absent, not just in St Lucia, but in the wider English-speaking Caribbean.

“Countries all across the world have realised and exploited the benefits of IXPs,” stated Jean in a presentation that highlighted the fact that without the establishment of a local IXP to allow for the free exchange of domestic Internet traffic, the domestic Internet industry would never reach its full potential.

Since the liberalisation of the telecommunications market in the Caribbean, St Lucia has witnessed an exponential growth in the number of Internet users, but the country has become increasingly reliant on Internet-based services. Jean pointed to the fact that IXPs are considered internationally to be a foundation and catalyst for domestic internet services and industry development.

Bevil Wooding, Packet Clearing House, delivers Internet Exchange Point (IXP) Awareness Seminars

Feature speaker at the event, Mr Bevil Wooding noted, “Building an IXP is a technically trivial exercise; building the level of trust and collaboration required between the stakeholders in the process is not always straightforward.”

Wooding, an international technology strategist, is the Caribbean Outreach Manager for US-based PCH. He also serves as the Program Director for the CTU’s Caribbean ICT Roadshow.  PCH is well qualified to tackle the subject of IXPS.  Over the past sixteen years, PCH has built or supported more than one third of the world’s 300 IXPs.

Wooding shared, “In forming new Internet exchanges, PCH facilitates a multi-stage process. Local stakeholders are organised to form an independent association. PCH can then work with that association to help guide the necessary decisions regarding organisational, financial, and governance structure. We also work with governments around the world to ensure a beneficial regulatory climate is in place for countries to realise the full benefit IXPs can bring.”

Wooding, whose feature address had a clear developmental emphasis, is also part of another international nonprofit organization.  He is Chief Knowledge Officer of Congress WBN, a Caribbean-based entity focused on social and national development. In his presentation, Wooding drew from his international experience to provide numerous examples of how IXPs can be practically leveraged in the region to address the issue of local content development, community empowerment and the propagation of Caribbean values.

He repeatedly challenged the audience to look beyond the technical considerations and recognise the social and economic implications of Internet Exchange Points.  Referring to examples from developing countries around the world where IXPs helped spark local innovation and entrepreneurial activity, he stated, “The Caribbean deserves no less; our countries should not be deprived of this most fundamental facility; and perhaps most importantly, our children should not be denied the opportunity to be equal participants in the global Internet.”

“We will continue to work with the CTU, Governments and other interested stakeholders to conduct educational workshops that help ISPs to achieve the level of cooperation necessary to form an IXP and begin peering.  We are also working the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG) to help roll out follow-up workshops to convey routing and peering technical skills,” Wooding assured.

Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the CTU, reiterated her organisation’s long-term commitment to regional development, stating, “The CTU will continue to seek out and partner with organizations that demonstrate a sincere commitment to national development.”

She added, “Our member states have indicated their serous intent to engage in longer term economic development and national infrastructure planning projects that allow countries to take full advantage of the opportunities of the Internet economy. Through the evolving Caribbean ICT Roadshow we will continue our outreach to Governments and to help policy makers understand the economic improvements and the changes to the regulatory and business environment that an IXP will bring.  We are also working with ISPs and entrepreneurs to identify business opportunities and develop market niches in content provision and technological innovation across the Caribbean.”

Lewis issued an open invitation to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) across the region to come on board the initiative to spur the development of the domestic internet industry in every Caribbean country. She said, “The support of regional ISPs like LIME and Columbus Communications is critical to this initiative.  The CTU through the Caribbean ICT Roadshow is doing its part to create wide stakeholder awareness. We have regional Governments and Private Sector groups offering neutral rent-free facilities to host IXPs. We have non-profit groups like PCH, Congress WBN and CaribNOG stepping forward to provide free equipment and free training to governments, businesses, network administrators, entrepreneurs and content providers. What we need now is immediate and decisive from our ISPs to make the establishment of IXPs in the Caribbean a reality.  This is an opportunity for ISPs across the Caribbean to clearly demonstrate their commitment to regional development.”

About Caribbean Telecommunications Union

The CTU is a policy formulation body, acting in an advisory capacity to the governments of the region. The organisation was established 20 years ago by regional heads of government to advise the regional governments on matters related to ICT. The CTU has been involved in the harmonization of policies across the Caribbean for the development of the ICT sector. It is governed by a Conference of Ministers from telecommunication and information ministries of the regional governments. Its membership base comprises governments, private sector and civil society organisations. The Caribbean ICT Roadshow will visit 20 countries over a 10 month period and culminate with a regional ICT symposium in the second quarter of 2010.

About Packet Clearing House

Packet Clearing House is a not-for-profit research institute with offices in San Francisco, London, and Kathmandu. PCH provides services to the public without cost or restriction wherever possible. PCH staff is drawn from the ranks of senior engineers and executives of Internet and telecommunications networking companies in many countries. Their decades of real-world experience in diverse regions of the world inform the organization’s work, perspective, and ability to bridge disparate communities of interest. PCH conductions workshops and develops and supports a variety of tools and services for the ISP, policymaking, and research communities.

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