Improving Caribbean Connectivity

Above: a panel discussion at the Caribbean Internet Governance Forum last month

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Are external factors holding back the Caribbean’s Internet entrepreneurs?

The answer is yes, particularly the apparent 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, and observers say it is an unnecessarily costly and inefficient way of handling in-country exchange of Internet traffic. Naturally, the expense and inconvenience are borne by the end-user.

Now, Caribbean stakeholders are starting to pay close attention to the external factors impacting their bottom line.

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 in September, Prescod acknowledged that the region was heavily dependent on foreign infrastructure for Internet access, especially US 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 said. “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,” he said. “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 vice presidents 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 emphasized what they saw as 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,” Wooding said.

“IXPs are a critical component of the local Internet economy, but they’re not the only component,” he said.

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.

 

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