Legacy of 1804: Caribbean cellcos block VoIP in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad

Blogosphere and ICT Pulse on Alice Backer's Legacy of 1804 Can you hear me now?

Tonight at 9 Eastern, I join Michele Marius (ICT Pulse), Gary Dauphin (USC Annenberg) and Pascal Antoine (HaitiXchange), to discuss Caribbean cellcos' move to block VoIP in Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Tune in to Legacy of 1804, hosted by Alice Backer.

Columbus' Cache Machine: Supporting the Caribbean Internet economy

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 closer 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 board members 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.

Belize to host Internet Exchange Point forum

The internet in Belize is still the most expensive and among the slowest in the entire Caribbean region, according to a 2013 survey of Caribbean Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

 

However, Trinidad-born Internet strategist Bevil Wooding says Belize's Internet users should not rely on costly international data transit for online communications within the country. Instead, to facilitate growth of the local telecommunications sector, they should establish their own facility for local Internet traffic exchange.

 

“The absence of a local IXP compromises a country’s ability to truly harness the potential of the Internet as an engine for economic growth, job creation and social empowerment,” said Wooding, an international Internet expert and, Internet strategist with the US-based research firm Packet Clearing House (PCH).

 

Wooding, along with PCH Research Director, Bill Woodcock, will speaking on June 6 at a special forum for Internet stakeholders in the private and public sector being hosted by the Public Utilities Commission. The discussion will centre on the establishment of a facility known as an Internet Exchange Point or IXP in Belize. The IXP Forum is part of a plan by the PUC to bring together international and local stakeholders to find ways of improving the quality and prices of Internet services for Belizeans.

 

The primary role of an IXP is to keep local internet traffic within local the local networks. IXPs also allow Internet Services Providers (ISPs) to reduce the costs associated with exchanging traffic between their networks.

 

"For instance, if a BTL customer living in Orange Walk, decides to send an e-mail to a friend, a SpeedNet customer who lives in Belmopan, that email must journey as a data packets that must travel out of Belize, to a switching point in a foreign country, just to be returned to Belize,” said Wooding.

 

"Such routing comes at a high cost to local ISPs. It is inefficient, expensive and results in the unnecessary hemorrhage of local capital as local ISPs pay to send traffic out only to bring it back in to the country over costly international links," he added. He also cited the risk of local Internet traffic being subject to possible inspection in foreign countries.

 

In the Caribbean at present, only the British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Grenada, St Maarten, Curacao and Dominica have IXPs. In conjunction with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, PCH is currently assisting several other Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Jamaica and St Kitts and Nevis in establishing local IXPs. PCH is a non-profit organisation and the world’s leading implementer of IXPs.

 

The initiative is part of a larger campaign by the CTU to support ICT-driven development in the region.

IXP Crucial To Building St Lucia’s Digital Economy

An Internet exchange point would play a crucial role in facilitating the growth of St. Lucia’s emerging digital economy, an international technology expert has said. Bevil Wooding, an Internet strategist with US-based Packet Clearing House (PCH), said the Caribbean island already has a wealth of human resource talent in the information and communications technology sector.

“St Lucia can accelerate its national development agenda by focusing attention on human resource development and by locating critical Internet infrastructure, such as IXPs, on the island,” Wooding stated.

The comments came at the launch of a digital content education agreement between the St Lucia National Youth Council and BrightPath Foundation, a non-profit organisation that provides technology education. Wooding was speaking on the role of IXPs in facilitating the development of local content.

Christopher Roberts, project coordinator for the Caribbean Regional Infrastructure Project with the government of St-Lucia, explained that an IXP works by keeping local Internet traffic routed locally and thus avoiding the costs, inefficiencies and delays incurred when local Internet traffic has to traverse expensive international routes.

Roberts explained that there is considerable demand for bandwidth intensive applications, cloud-based services and high-speed networks in St Lucia, particularly among the island's youth.

“An internet exchange point will play an important role in underpinning our digital economy.  Our country already has a pool of creative young persons, itching to take advantage of the opportunities the Internet presents.  But our longstanding infrastructure, bandwidth and cost of access issues have been a major stumbling block.

“A domestic IXP can provide new opportunities for technology-based innovation by our youth and our entrepreneurs.”

Wooding said IXPs would also help lower the cost of delivering services to end-users, speed up transmissions, strengthen the resilience of local networks, and decrease international Internet connectivity costs.

“Without the appropriate infrastructure, government, businesses and consumers will continue to be frustrated, and the promise benefits of the Internet age will continue to elude the country,” he said.

PCH will provide technical assistance and advice to the government of St. Lucia for the local Internet Exchange Point.

At present only the British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Grenada, St Maarten, Curacao and Dominica have IXPs. In conjunction with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, PCH is currently assisting several other Caribbean countries, including Barbados, Jamaica and St Kitts and Nevis in establishing local IXPs. PCH is a non-profit research organisation, and the world’s leading implementer of IXPs.