Creating new digital opportunities: Saint Lucia launches local Internet exchange point

Saint Lucia celebrated its 35th year of independence with a bold step toward improving the quality of Internet services for its citizens. On February 28, the island joined the growing list of Caribbean countries reaping the benefits of a local Internet Exchange Point, or IXP.

The Saint Lucia Internet exchange, called SLiX, was launched under the umbrella of a broader World Bank-funded Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Program (CARCIP), coordinated by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) and with support from Packet Clearing House (PCH). The IXP is a critical component of the overall project, which seeks to increase regionwide access to and uptake of broadband Internet service.

The CTU has been engaged to coordinate CARCIP, which is a partnership between the World Bank and the governments of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. The programme aims, ultimately, to improve the efficiency of telecommunications infrastructure development and technology-driven service delivery throughout the wider Caribbean. Through the World Bank’s International Development Association, CARCIP was allocated a total disbursement of US$25 million, including loans to the three countries and a grant to the CTU to execute a number of regional ICT-related development projects.

The groundwork for the project was undertaken by the CTU, which has been advocating the need for proliferating Caribbean IXPs since 2006. The CTU’s aggressive public education activities on IXP principles and strategic partnership with Packet Clearing House (PCH), a globally recognised non-profit institution in the field of IXP implementation, have played a significant role in the establishment of every IXP in the region.

IXP key to Internet economy

Dr James Fletcher, Minister of the Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology, delivered the keynote at the SLiX launch.

“With the establishment of this critical component of Internet infrastructure within our own shores, Saint Lucia has taken a significant step away from dependence on foreign-based service providers,” Fletcher said.

As part of the larger goal to fully develop the domestic Internet economy, Fletcher’s ministry collaborated with PCH, which has been directly involved in setup of more than one-third of the world’s 300-plus exchange points.

Bevil Wooding, an Internet Strategist and Caribbean Outreach Manager for PCH described the launch of SLiX as “an important milestone for the country's growing Internet economy”.

Wooding, who played an instrumental role in the process, explained that the establishment of a local IXP in St Lucia is expected to stimulate locally driven, Internet-based enterprise and innovation. SLiX will create a pathway for the emergence of a local crop of innovators and entrepreneurs to build applications, and launch new services that target local Internet users, he said.

“Look out for a new range of Internet based apps for education, broadcasting, health-care, business, government services and other areas, to take advantage of local Internet traffic exchange.”

Competitors working together

The launch of SLiX also means that, for the first time, Saint Lucia’s local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have agreed to exchange locally-destined Internet traffic between their respective networks without cost.

The arrangement, common in developed markets, is expected to improve the speed, reliability, security and resilience of the local Internet, said Wooding, who played an instrumental role in the process.

Geraldine Pitt, Chief Executive Officer of LIME St Lucia said her company was “delighted to collaborate with the Government of St. Lucia on the creation of an Internet Exchange Point (IXP).”

LIME, a major regional  telecommunications provider, has committed to using its participating at the new IX “to enable local consumers to benefit from a faster experience for domestic online services”, she said.

Columbus St Lucia Country Manager, Jesse Edwards, underscored the sentiments expressed by his LIME counterpart, stating that Columbus, LIME and their respective customers stand to benefit from the launch of  St Lucia IXP.

“Columbus is very committed to IXP development  in the Caribbean.  We actively support IXs and peering in all the markets we serve. The collaboration between LIME and Columbus to establish SLiX is strong testament to our ongoing willingness to work together in the interest of developing the St Lucian market and creating new opportunities for the wider Caribbean market,” Edwards said.

Christopher Roberts, local CARCIP coordinator, echoed the importance of competitors collaborating for the greater good.

“The establishment of the Saint Lucia IXP is a triumph not of technology, but of the spirit of cooperation between stakeholders in a highly competitive market,” he said.

“It speaks to what can be accomplished when individuals and corporations--and even fierce competitors--agree to collaboration in support of mutual interests and in the wider public interest.”

The CTU and PCH have headed the campaign to bring Internet service providers, governments and regulators to the table to improve regional Internet performance, traffic routing efficiency, resilience, and cost by keeping local traffic local.

“This new local IXP ensures that locally generated Internet traffic destined for customers on-island will now remain in-country, rather than having to go through lengthy, expensive, and sometimes insecure international routes," said Wooding.

SLiX is the Caribbean’s seventh exchange point to be launched since 2009. Around the region, the  launch of exchanges in the region has seen all-round improvement for service providers and Internet end users. Saint Lucia is now poised to reap similar benefits, Wooding said.

“With the declaration of Independence 35 years ago came the responsibility to build a nation. So too, with the establishment of SLiX comes the responsibility to now deliberately build  the domestic Internet economy. By launching SLiX, St Lucia has taken a significant step toward charting its own digital destiny.”