More robust Internet infrastructure is needed in under-served regions to support the increased demand for online services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and for crises to come.
The sudden restrictions on social movement as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have created an unprecedented spike in Internet usage and a greater dependence on digital services. The Internet is no longer optional for certain types of transactions and social interactions, it’s the only option!
In the emerging new normal, investments in national technology infrastructure, as well as digital literacy, skills and services, are imperative. Such investments will help determine the extent to which societies are adequately prepared for the inevitable disruption of coming crises.
Wanted: More Local Internet Services
The surge in Internet usage is testing the capacity and resilience of local, as well as regional, networks. Many organizations and governments are now scrambling for shortcuts to keep operations going and to deliver online services to customers and citizens. The coronavirus crisis has exposed the need to have more local services available over the Internet such as online delivery services, healthcare, education content, e-government, and digital payments solutions. It has also revealed inadequacies in national policies and preparedness to support such services.
Getting more local services on the Internet has emerged as a top priority, especially in emerging markets and traditionally under-served locales. However, obstructing the path is the complex mix of public-policy regulation, infrastructure, education, technical expertise, capital and social equity necessary for digital transformation. There is no quick fix.
An epiphany is dawning upon government and business leaders: the global Internet is most valuable when it connects local content, local communities and local economies. Never before has the importance of local networks, supporting local transactions, and delivering local services to local users been more apparent.
The Case for Local Internet Exchange Points
An Internet Exchange Point, or IXP, is a proven solution for increasing local network bandwidth and capacity. IXPs help reduce the cost of delivering domestic Internet traffic. They also improve transmission efficiencies and foster the development of the local Internet ecosystem and economy. Internet users trying to make the most of their time while social distancing can be the primary beneficiaries of the domestic Internet traffic exchange that takes place at IXPs.
Brent McIntosh, Peering Coordinator at the Grenada Internet Exchange Point, GREX, explains it like this:
“When government networks peer at the local IX, public servants can have fast and reliable connectivity to online government applications to ensure they can continue to do their jobs. For content developers and operators of business networks, peering can provide staff with more reliable access and better performance when using bandwidth-intensive applications like videoconferencing, telemedicine or distance learning. This is why it is so important that more autonomous networks and IXPs be set up across the region.”
For years, Internet development-focused organizations, such as the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG), Packet Clearing House (PCH), the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Registry (LACNIC), and the Internet Society (ISOC) have advocated for the proliferation of IXPs in the Caribbean. ARIN has also supported this effort, promoting network autonomy and IPv6 adoption as part of a holistic approach to strengthening local network capacity.
Cross-Sector Collaboration Needed
Thankfully, there are already positive steps being taken in the ARIN and LACNIC service regions. In the Caribbean, countries that have functional IXPs, such as Grenada, Belize, Curacao, Haiti and St Maarten, are already reaping the benefits of cheap, reliable local bandwidth.
Meanwhile, ARIN, in collaboration with CaribNOG, the CTU, PCH, LACNIC, ISOC, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, has stepped up training and capacity building efforts to help the Caribbean rapidly expand local Internet capacity and improve the quality of Internet Services. The ARIN Caribbean Public Policy Forum is also mobilizing with the CTU to provide training, advice and technical support to Government Ministers policymakers, ISPs and IX operators. This is all in recognition that public policy, critical Internet infrastructure and digital services will have to be more deliberately coordinated to benefit local Internet users, businesses and economies.
As exceptional as this pandemic is, it’s clear that COVID-19 is not likely to be the last crisis to impact the world. The current crisis presents an opportunity for governments, regulators, ISPs and content producers to learn important lessons and work together on solutions for navigating the new normal. Only through such collaboration can countries ensure that they have the domestic Internet capacity necessary to support local online services, now and into the future.