Nº 5 2013 > Highlights from WPTF‑13 Opinions
Promoting Internet exchange points to advance connectivity
Why are Internet exchange points so important?
Internet exchange points (IXPs) are a key locale for interconnection and exchange of traffic — they are technical facilities where all Internet players interconnect directly with each other. Such exchange points enable the local peering of domestic traffic, reduce the number of network hops to exchange traffic, increase the number of route options available, optimize use of international Internet connectivity, and may increase Internet penetration and usage over the long term.
By January 2013, around 376 IXPs had been set up worldwide, according to Packet Clearing House. Some 95 countries had established IXPs, while 104 (mostly developing countries and least-developed countries) had not. Given the ever-rising demand and Internet traffic for bandwidth-hungry services (such as video), the benefits of IXPs and local exchange of traffic are set to grow.
WTPF‑13 Opinion 1
The significant role of Internet exchange points as a means of enhancing Internet connectivity was one of the key areas of focus at the World Telecommunication and Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF‑13), held in Geneva on 14–16 May 2013. Specifically, Working Group 1 of the Policy Forum discussed “Draft Opinion 1 on Promoting Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) as a long-term solution to advance connectivity”, along with contributions from Australia, the United States, Turkey, the Internet Society (ISOC), and the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) — the Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. Presenting their contributions, all (except Turkey) expressed support for the Opinion as drafted by the WTPF‑13 Informal Experts Group.
Turkey wanted to amend the Opinion so that Member States and Sector Members would be invited to collaborate to enable the emergence of IXPs “especially in developing countries”, and would promote public policies aimed at “encouraging” local, regional and international Internet network operators to interconnect through IXPs. Other countries, however, were reluctant to make any changes to the text and so, for the sake of compromise, Turkey agreed not to insist on its amendments. Working Group 1 then endorsed Opinion 1 unaltered and submitted it to the plenary of the Forum, which also reached consensus making no change to the text.
Rationale for Opinion 1
Opinion 1, as approved, considers recent developments on advancing connectivity. One is a report by the ITU and UNESCO Broadband Commission, entitled “State of Broadband 2012: Achieving Digital Inclusion for All”, which recognizes that “technology-based developments such as content distribution networks and IXPs have resulted in economic efficiencies and have generally proven helpful, where the regulatory environment has been favourable. Another is the Connect Americas Summit, held in Panama City in July 2012, where regional leaders committed to the development of IXPs at the local, national and regional levels to reduce Internet access costs.
Gist of Opinion 1
Opinion 1 expresses the view that the establishment of local, national, sub-regional and regional IXPs is a priority in addressing connectivity issues, improving quality of service and reducing interconnection costs. An increased level of interconnection, enabled by participation in IXPs, contributes to an enhanced level of resilience in the network infrastructure.
Enabling the interconnection of international, national and regional networks through IXPs may be an effective way of improving international Internet connectivity and reducing the costs of such connectivity — regulation may only be used when necessary to promote competition.
The establishment of IXPs creates a virtuous cycle — as the IXP attracts more Internet service providers, it will also begin to attract local, national and international content providers, along with business, academic and governmental users.
It is important to encourage and support local content capacity in developing countries. In that context, donor programmes and developmental financing mechanisms should consider funding initiatives that advance connectivity, IXPs and local content for those countries.
Regulatory measures should not impede transit and peering arrangements. Rather, they should create an enabling and competitive environment for the establishment of IXPs. Liberalization of the electronic communication market may play a significant role in allowing a competitive market to emerge to support introduction and interconnection with IXPs.
Effective IXPs often emerge where Member States have adopted multistakeholder policy processes. This is unsurprising, because IXPs rely on cooperation among stakeholders.
The need to collaborate
Bearing all this in mind, WTPF‑13 invited Member States and Sector Members to collaborate in: promoting the further development and expansion of networks on national, sub-regional and regional levels; enabling the emergence of IXPs, for example, by exchanging technical expertise and fostering supportive policy environments through open multistakeholder consultations; and promoting public policies aimed at permitting local, regional and international Internet network operators to interconnect through IXPs.