IGF 2020 WS #323 Emerging perspectives on the Internet Exchange Points
This session provided an overview of why Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) are vital elements of Internet infrastructure, since they preserve Internet connectivity in times of crises, such as the current COVID-19 crisis, and during extreme forms of government control over the Internet. Ms Olga Cavalli (Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Argentina) invited the panel to give an overview of the current context of the IXPs in the international realm. She noted that IXPs are very relevant when dealing with natural disasters or access in remote areas. For example, in Argentina, a large country with a dispersed population, IXPs have become a relevant part of the infrastructure. In fact, IXPs are the physical infrastructure through which Internet service providers (ISPs) and content delivery networks (CDNs) exchange Internet traffic between their networks (autonomous systems). It is marked by a business relationship in which ISPs sell connectivity to users.
Ms Patricia Vargas (Visiting Fellow, ISP Yale Law School) said that IXPs are typically located in nations with advanced economies and, ironically, the developing world then sustains a high cost of connectivity as the infrastructure is subject to more expensive contracts. She has studied Internet shutdowns and has ascertained that controlling IXPs is more logical and more difficult than controlling ISPs, which makes it more difficult to initiate an Internet shutdown. Democratic countries have more IXPs, while non-democratic ones have fewer. Vargas invited the legal community to find existing principles in international law that could be applied to protection of IXP traffic.
In the Asia-Pacific region, APNIC is the regional Internet address registry. Mr Che-Hoo Cheng (Infrastructure & Development Director, APNIC) said that APNIC strongly believes IXPs help Internet development and growth. Developing economies need guidance, training, and technical assistance and, while maintaining its own neutrality, APNIC often works with major stakeholders to convince them of the benefits of having local IXPs. Cheng stated that APNIC is available to aid small providers to connect; and, further, that associations of regional registries help this goal.
Ms Jane Coffin (Senior Vice President, Internet Growth, Internet Society) brought up the issue of getting technical equipment. It can be a challenge at times to raise awareness on the importance of IXPs, both from the technical side and the human side. She pointed out neutral management and equal treatment as vital within an IXP. ‘Doesn’t matter if you are a big, small, medium carrier, IXPs are not ISPs and there shouldn’t be internal competition’, she stated. An IXP does not have to be big and expensive. In its core it is an Ethernet switch, a piece of equipment, and it can be run at a low cost and, most importantly, in a collaborative manner.
Mr Moctar Yedaly (Head Of Information Society, African Union Commission) said that in Africa the main objective in recent years has been to unite the countries and ensure that traffic is transparent and direct. However, human engineering and understanding of why having an IXP is relevant is still a challenge. Two projects have helped tackle this. AXIS, in conjunction with the Internet Society, showed the importance of having an IXP on an international level and the financial gains that arise from it. One project aided in capacity building, establishing how to separate ecosystems among the point system and providing technical skills and equipment. The second project addressed Internet shutdowns and their economic cost. The balance between freedom of expression and business continuity is still a challenge, Yedaly noted.
Sharing lessons from Europe, Ms Nurani Nimpuno (Head of Global Engagement, London Internet Exchange [LINX]) agreed with other speakers that IXPs are technically simple and only pass traffic. Agreeing with Cheng, she said that transit connections still keep connectivity if the IXP is down. The history of IXPs in Europe has shown three lessons. First, it has shown that the need for lower cost instigated deregulation in the 1990s and then more players entered the market after the Internet arrived from the US. Second, co-operation was essential. Third, infrastructure: instead of two operators sending traffic to the US, they started interconnecting between them. Nimpuno also noted that the membership and community-based models of co-operation seem to have been the main success factors. Lower cost is important, but moving forward, creating an IXP, creates a community of trust. Also, in-country resilience and its connection to the rest of the world grow because there are more parts for Internet traffic.