A Faster, Better Caribbean Internet

Recently, Governments across the Caribbean region have been more and more vocal in acknowledging the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to social development. Many Caribbean-based businesses have also been talking about the importance of leveraging the potential of ICT to increase the region’s global competitiveness. Implicit in these statements is the assumption that the Internet will serve as the primary vehicle for the delivery of all these services.

The challenge with this lies in the fact that this increasing dependence on the Internet has not been met with a commensurate increase in the investment in critical Internet infrastructure across the region. In the present environment of opportunity, there is a need for more strategic investment in the foundational platforms needed to make the Internet work better for the region.

The good news is there is an internationally recognised mechanism for achieving cost and service gains and for spurring growth in the domestic ICT sector. That mechanism is an Internet Exchange Point, or IXP as it is commonly called.

An IXP is a physical infrastructure through which Internet service providers (ISPs) exchange local Internet traffic between their networks. An IXP can be described as a facility that allows domestic-bound Internet traffic to stay local and not have to be sent via long expensive overseas routes. Sending domestic bound traffic through a local IXP has huge cost and performance implications for the ISP and for its consumers.

It is no surprise, therefore, that there is a growing movement to proliferate IXPs across the Caribbean. There are over 300 IXPs worldwide, but only three in the Caribbean, located in Curacao, St Maarten and Haiti—five, if you include Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist, Packet Clearing House

“The initiative to establish IXPs in the Caribbean has found ready support from regional Governments and ISPs who are recognizing that IXPs must be deployed across the Caribbean if we are to develop the kind of domestic Internet economy necessary to spark new levels of indigenous innovation, local content creation and industry growth,” explained Caribbean-based technology expert, Bevil Wooding.

Wooding serves as an Internet Strategist for the US-based research non-profit organization Packet Clearing House (PCH), an organization that works extensively around the globe to establish and support critical Internet infrastructure. Recently, Wooding has been working to raise awareness in the Caribbean region of the need for IXPs as well as other critical Internet infrastructure.

“The proliferation of IXPs should attract more Internet-related Service Providers to hub in the region and even use the Caribbean for the exchange of international Internet traffic and content hosting. This can further reduce broadband access costs and improve our speed of access to content and services,” he explained.

The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) is also heavily involved in the campaign and has been a strong and vocal proponent for region-wide proliferation of IXPs. Over the past two years the CTU and PCH have been edifying regional Governments, ISPs and content producers about IXPs. Their goal is for citizens, businesses and governments alike tap new possibilities for innovation and industry growth. According to Wooding, “the establishment of critical internet infrastructure in the region can lead to a revolution of e-learning, e-health, youth empowerment, e-government and other telecommunications based services”.

Their efforts have been paying off as several Caribbean territories, including the British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica, Suriname and St Kitts and Nevis, have already signaled their intention to establish IXPs. And, in Trinidad and Tobago, the move to re-start earlier stalled efforts is now in progress.

“The establishment of IXPs enables high-bandwidth, low latency applications like multimedia, gaming, and file-sharing or file-hosting. It also benefits highly interactive applications like transaction-based services, video conferencing and streaming, online stock trading, government services and interactive gaming, as well as bandwidth-intensive activities like cloud computing,” Wooding shared.

According to CTU Secretary General, Bernadette Lewis, “Regional awareness and education initiatives, such as the CTU’s Caribbean ICT Roadshow play a significant role in bringing together government officials, regulators, academics, ISP executives, technical experts, content providers and other stakeholders, to examine the economic, regulatory, technical, political and legal issues surrounding IXP deployment.”

The Caribbean ICT Roadshow has been promoting the innovative use of ICT at every level of society throughout the region. The Roadshow has also attracted international attention as a model for promoting innovation in the use of ICT at every level of society. In September 2010, Wooding and Lewis travelled to Zimbabwe to present the Roadshow outreach model to an audience of Southern African Government, Business and Civil Society leaders.

“The Internet now serves as an essential communication backbone for our social, economic and cultural development and is now foundational to the region’s development agenda. Therefore, establishing Internet Exchange Points throughout the Caribbean is not a nice idea. It is a regional imperative,” Wooding said.

According to Wooding, the strategy to support the deployment of IXPs in the Caribbean region should consist of three core elements: education and training, policy and regulatory guidance, and stakeholder support.

He concluded, “Without IXPs, there would be no Internet as we know it.”

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