A new location, and new equipment should mean that the belabored and long awaited BVI Internet Exchange Point (IXP), which will deliver free or low cost local internet is almost here. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and the public therefore continues to pay high rates for local internet streams because some local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are not fully on board with the IXP efforts.
The BVI Internet Exchange Point was established in 2010 to serve as a vital part of the telecommunications landscape. The primary goal was to improve the Internet situation of the Territory, and ultimately reduce costs associated with Internet traffic exchanged between the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the Territory by ensuring that the local internet traffic is routed locally.
The sad news of further wait was delivered by Bevil Wooding of Packet Clearing House, the company that helped set up the IXP in the BVI and in some Caribbean countries. In his update on the progress of the BVI IXP Mr. Wooding disclosed that since last year great strides had been made to move the IXP dream closer to reality.
“In November 2016 a workshop was held for the participants of the Exchange to help them understand how to move and upgrade the Exchange Point. The facility that was started at the High School was found to be insufficient for the growth plans of the Exchange Point and a new venue has been identified at the hospital,” he disclosed.
Mr. Wooding who is also an Internet Strategist and Advisor to the Caribbean Telecommunications Union mentioned that: “The BVI IXP now has its own internet address block which allows it to take on more customers, more participants and grow the content. Additionally Mr. Wooding mentioned that the equipment of the BVI IXP is being upgraded to allow it to transmit at faster speeds.”
In further explaining the ISP situation, Mr. Wooding pointed out that the companies are no longer Peering – which is the process by which two internet networks connect and exchange traffic: “They stopped peering; so it is actually not true to say the IXP is up and running in the BVI. It is not up and running. Peering is what you call the connections that take place at the exchange point, these are no cost connections. When I say they stopping peering, it means that, instead of sending the traffic to the exchange point they continue to send it back up to Miami.”
The benefits of a fully functional IXP was mentioned by Junior Minister for Tourism, and Eighth District Representative, Hon. Marlon Penn while speaking in the House of Assembly on 21 March.
Hon. Penn who at the time bemoaned that the project has been in limbo admonished Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool as well as the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) to move forward with the initiative, which – he stated – has the potential of changing the BVI’s telecommunication landscape.
The Junior Minister announced: “I know that the TRC has been working on this Exchange Point since 2006, since the Commission came into play and we are still at the point where we have not developed this exchange. I think it is something that the Chairman and CEO needs to really look to create the required level of connectivity between the carriers.”
Hon. Penn explained that he is very familiar with the possibilities that could be realised with an Internet Exchange Point and ventured into explaining how the BVI’s IXP will change things: “What that (IXP) does is create an environment, a more efficient environment for businesses to start up. For instance persons who are in the film industry, and the music industry have a network within a network to sort of exchange their talents, exchange their products … Persons in the local arena have access to that local content, so you would have a Youtube for the BVI so to speak where you don’t have to use your data to have access to that network. There are so many possibilities from a business and an e-commerce point of view. If we are to get these tools up and running…”
TRC Remains Hopeful
In an interview with The Island Sun newspaper Mr. Elford Parsons, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of the BVI Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) disclosed that the Government is desirous of exploring the full potential of the IXP offering and furthering its development: “We, the TRC, will be the driving force working to bring interested parties together to make sure it (IXP phase two) happens. This is something the government is keen on seeing happen.”
Mr. Parsons noted that the BVI was in a leading position when it first established its IXP approximately six years ago, but now other jurisdictions are leading in that area: “Interestingly when it was first conceived back in 2010/2011, I think we were like the second country in the Caribbean who were creating an Internet Exchange Point. Unfortunately a lot has happened since then, and now we are way down the list; so we are keen to re-establish ourselves as a premier destination with an IXP operating in the Caribbean.”
Back in 2011 the two providers who operated in the market came together and signed a memorandum of understanding along with the Government’ Department of Information Technology to create this IXP. However, the momentum lagged after that. “To the best of my knowledge it never got very far and over the years it never realized the potential that it was originally created to afford for the people of the Territory,” Mr. Parsons explained.
Currently the BVI IXP has three providers FLOW, Packet Clearing House (the company that helped set up the point) and CCT. We are calling this phase two in an effort to re-establish the connections. The CTO of the TRC disclosed that a key aspect of phase two is to engage the third telecommunications operator — Digicel.
Parsons added that Digicel is mandated by the Telecoms Code to be part of the IXP: “One of the first order of business is to bring them (Digicel) into the fold ensuring that local traffic to and from their customers also stays local as well,” Mr. Parsons noted.