Belize Has Big Internet Plans

Belize
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Local IXP Seen as the Launch Pad for Developing Local Technical Capacity in Belize

By Gerard Best
CJ Contributor

HAVANAErrol Cattouse is a man on a mission.

He’s the Chief Operating Officer of Centaur Cable and the newly appointed chairman of Belize’s internet exchange point. Launched in Belize City on April 27, the exchange point is seen as a key component in the country’s growing technology sector.

An internet exchange point or IXP is the physical infrastructure through which data traffic is exchanged between networks on the internet. So far, more than 300 IXPs exist in 80 countries around the world. In the Caribbean, several countries have set up national IXPs to significantly lower the cost of local internet traffic delivery and to eliminate the expensive inefficiency of sending domestically-bound traffic overseas. For Cattouse and others in the Caribbean, IXPs also hold the promise of better network performance and greater options to innovate in the delivery of services to local consumers.

Thing is, Cattouse already knows he can’t do it on his own. So he’s on a mission to develop the human resource capacity needed to bring the dream home. And he’s not alone.

Around the region, the investments being made in critical Internet infrastructure are creating a demand for expertise that seemingly outstrips current domestic supply. The growing Caribbean technology revolution can’t be completed until the region can raise up a generation of open minds and able hands ready to seize the opportunities and deliver on technology’s elusive promise. That’s what brought Cattouse and other Internet service providers from across the region to Cuba in May.

This historic city of Havana was host to the twenty-fifth meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Registry (LACNIC) from May 2 to 6. The week was packed. Hundreds of delegates from across the Caribbean, Central and South America, USA and Europe filled the corridors of the Havana Convention Centre, following an agenda crammed full of sessions covering everything from cybersecurity to the policy minutiae of Internet governance. Even the social networking activities carried a distinctly Cuban flavour, producing many memories that would probably have been shared instantly, but for the lack of mobile broadband internet access. But that’s another story.

Amidst all that buzz, Cathouse was staying focused, on mission.

“I’m here because in Belize, with our newly formed Internet Exchange, we’re looking forward to LACNIC helping us with a lot of technical support,” he told me, when I caught up with him between sessions. “We don’t have access to a lot of technical education and capacity in Belize, and we’ve benefitted of programs from the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG) and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) to help build our local capacity. This LACNIC meeting is part of our ongoing efforts to continue making connections with the regional technical community.”

He cited the Domain Name System (DNS) and Border Gateway Patrol routing (BGP) as two examples of the kinds of technical training needed in Belize to get the most out of the new IXP. DNS and BGP are among the basic building blocks of the Iinternet. DNS is a system used to convert a computer’s host name into an internet protocol address, while BGP is the main routing protocol of the internet, used to decide how data gets from one place to another.

The good news? Global, non-profit organisations like LACNIC, the Internet Society, Packet Clearing House, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers are eager to work alongside Belize and others in the Caribbean to delivering training and capacity building programs to improve and expand the region’s internet.

“LACNIC is quite focused on building out training opportunities for the region,” said Kevon Swift, LACNIC’s Head of Strategic Relations and Integration, in an interview at LACNIC 25. “We offer workshops that cover everything from the basics of IPv6 to Address Planning and BGP Routing because we recognise that this level of knowledge or expertise may not always  reside in every territory at this time.”

LACNIC’s online campus already offers MOOC-style, self-paced courses, said Laura Kaplan, LACNIC’s Cooperation and Development Officer, adding that there is a plan to expand the curriculum to cover the kinds of topics that Cattouse and others are looking for, and to make it more friendly to English-speaking participants.

“What we offer is not just information but the opportunity to join mailing lists, make new contacts and  build relationships with other people who are also working in the same field,” Kaplan said.

Bill Woodcock, research director at Packet Clearing House, was also at LACNIC 25, and in an interview he highlighted the work his San Francisco-based organisation has been doing in the region.

“PCH has been working closely with the CTU, CaribNOG and others in the region to support the proliferation of Internet exchange points and to help strengthen the region’s internet infrastructure.”

Woodcock and his PCH team helped set up the Belize IXP and are now actively planning with Cattouse to facilitate a series technical training workshops for Belize, over the second half of the year.

That has got to be pretty reassuring to those, like Cattouse, on a mission to help his country and  the Caribbean move from the land of Internet promises, into the Internet promised land.

 

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