The Role of IXPs

Report on ARIN “COVID-19 and the Caribbean Internet” Webinar Series

For Caribbean states, small population sizes, resource constraints and vulnerable infrastructure have amplified the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The social distancing protocols mandated in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have created unprecedented demand for local Internet capacity. Internet service providers in the region are being pressured by consumers, businesses and governments to provide more reliable, higher capacity local internet bandwidth to meet the surge in demand for quality broadband service. There has never been a stronger case or better time for building and strengthening local Internet exchange points (IXPs) across the Caribbean.

The third session in the ARIN Caribbean Webinar Series on COVID-19 and the Caribbean Internet series of webinars explored the topic: Increasing Local Network Connectivity and Capacity – IXP lessons from across the region. IXP operators from Grenada and Belize were invited to share their real-world experience in managing their local exchange points in the midst of a pandemic; and discuss internet infrastructure, network security, electronic service delivery, telecommunications regulation, public policy and public safety.

Brent McIntosh, coordinator of the GREX exchange point in Grenada and Bill Woodcock, research director at Packet Clearing House (PCH), were the feature presenters. The session was moderated by Bevil Wooding, Director of Caribbean Affairs at ARIN.

Wooding set the stage. He pointed out that greater teleworking, online education and round-the-clock online entertainment-content consumption, all triggered by the pandemic, are testing the robustness of Internet Service Provider networks.

“There is renewed interest in finding ways to reduce the cost of delivering local traffic; improve the quality and availability of local bandwidth for local providers of digital services; improve the resilience and security of local networks; and provide incentives for local digital content creators to host their applications and services locally,” Wooding shared.

“Establishing functional local IXPs is a proven mechanism for addressing these issues. The crisis of covid-19 presents an opportunity to build and strengthen local internet infrastructure and provide new avenues for accelerating digital transformation across the region.”

For years, Internet development-focused organizations such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), Packet Clearing House (PCH), the Internet Society (ISOC) and ARIN have advocated for the proliferation of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) in the Caribbean.

“Local IXPs help reduce the cost of delivering domestic Internet traffic. They also improve transmission efficiencies and foster the development of the local Internet ecosystem and economy,” said Woodcock.

Woodcock has been involved in the establishment of over 200 IXPs across the world, including several in the Caribbean. He noted that the small size of Caribbean markets is not a disincentive to establishing local exchange points.

“IXPs are considered critical Internet infrastructure. They are essentially factories where Internet bandwidth is produced. IXPs also play a key role in making regions economically autonomous. So, at a time when borders are closing and trade is disrupted, IXPs can play an important role in encouraging domestic economic activity over the Internet,” Woodcock added.

He explained that at IXPs Internet Bandwidth is produced collaboratively.

“Internet service providers come together at exchange points to produce the bandwidth through a process known as peering. Content providers are also particularly important to IXs as they serve to bring Internet content closer to consumers by hosting caches at exchange points. This means users and ISPs will not need to not go outside our country to get the content. This in turn, reduces the costs, increases the quality and improves the quality of internet services. Content providers can include universities, news stations, governments, and other local producers of media who need to connect at an Internet exchange point for it to be considered successful.”

Brent McIntosh supported this point by highlighting how traffic across the Grenada Internet exchange point, GREX, has been steadily increasing over the past several months.

“The stats show that GREX has been making a significant and beneficial contribution to the quality of Internet services in Grenada since the pandemic. We have been able to support local applications ranging from local grocery delivery apps and online government services to covid-19 contact tracing, all hosted at GREX,” McIntosh stated.

He shared that connecting to the exchange required network operators to have autonomous networks and an understanding of Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing techniques.

“The IX, with support from ARIN and CaribNOG has been able to get local network operators to better understand the importance of network autonomy, IPv6 and network routing and security techniques. So GREX has provided much more than local bandwidth and network resilience to Grenada. Our local IXP has provided opportunity for us to develop our local human resource capacity in network administration, application development and digital service delivery.”

The ARIN Caribbean webinar series, titled “COVID-19 and the Caribbean Internet,” explored the evolving impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in four key areas—infrastructure, security, access policy, and network service delivery best practices. The series comprised of 10 weekly sessions, conducted from 9 April to 12 June 2020. The initiative is spearheaded by ARIN and CaribNOG, in collaboration with the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Registry (LACNIC), the Internet Society (ISOC), the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).