By Gerard Best
Sometimes the best solution to a technical problem is social engineering. After a journey of two years, that’s exactly how Belize has come to a major milestone in its technological development.
The country’s Internet service providers (ISPs) have committed to set up Belize’s first-ever Internet exchange point (IXP), a piece of critical Internet infrastructure through which they can exchange local Internet traffic between their networks. The process was as simple—and as difficult—as getting nine Internet service providers (ISPs), all fierce competitors, to agree to work together for the greater good.
Belize Telemedia, Speednet, BroadBand Belize, and Network Solutions signed the historic agreement on April 16 at the University of Belize’s (UB) Belize City campus, clearing the way for the establishment of the region’s latest IXP, called Belize IX or BIX.
“As with all things important and meaningful, it was not an easy task to get to this point. However, the journey of the negotiating the pathway to this agreement for the Belize Internet exchange (BIX) was in indeed rewarding,” said Michael Kong, owner and CEO at NetKing Solutions, who spoke at the signing on behalf of the ISPs.
Other signatures to the memorandum of understanding (MOU) include Centaur Communications Corporation, Alliance IP Belize and NetKing Solutions.
“I speak on behalf of all providers when I say that determined team effort and collaboration for the greater good made this historic day a reality. We can all be happy and proud to know we are part of a milestone that will go down in ICT history in Belize,” Kong said.
The agreement marks a significant moment for Belize. It is the first time that the country’s ISPs put aside their differences to work together to address a challenge that affects them all—bandwidth.
“The upcoming launch of BIX will put an end to a costly and inefficient situation whereby data and access to other critical local services has to be routed internationally just to get back to a local customer, who could be only a few feet away from the person who sent it. In other words, we were using expensive international Internet connections to exchange domestic traffic,” said Bevil Wooding, Internet strategist with international non-profit Packet Clearing House, speaking in an interview following the signing.
Packet Clearing House, a non-profit organisation, plays a key role in implementing IXPs around the world. In the Caribbean, Wooding and his team have worked closely with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, regulators and local ISPs to set up IXPs across the region.
Traditionally, local internet traffic would need to leave Belize to an ISP in the United States and then get rerouted back to Belize. Once BIX is set up, that local traffic will no longer have to leave the country. That means better speeds for local Internet users.
Establishing a local IXP brings benefits not only to local consumers but also to the ISPs’ bottom line, Wooding explained.
“A local IXP improves the quality and cost effectiveness of delivering local Internet-enabled services to citizens and businesses. That’s a major benefit for local ISPs. The IXP also enables new forms of local innovation and entrepreneurship, as Internet users benefit from greater opportunities for e-commerce and local content development, including online education.”
Alan Slusher, President of the University of Belize, said the university “is looking forward to greatly expanding its capacity to deliver training across the length and breadth of the country and directly into the homes and workplaces of our work people. Thus greatly reducing the costs of education while expanding its availability. We are looking for a great leap forward as a result of this corporation.”
The soon-to-be established IXP will not only address the inefficiency of local Internet traffic exchange. It will also allow other important Internet infrastructure to be located in Belize, such as domain name root services and content delivery caches from major content networks like Google, Netflix and Yahoo.
Roosevelt Blades, chair of the ISP working group, is already looking ahead. He announced at the signing there are plans to have a similar facility built in Belmopan, once the Belize City IX is up and running.
Technical discussions about how to set up the IXP started two years ago, with a working group that included ISPs, the Belize Public Utilities Commission, government ministries, Packet Clearing House with support from other regional stakeholders, including the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, and the Caribbean Network Operators Group (CaribNOG).
Speaking at an October 2013 CaribNOG event at which the plans to establish BIX were announced, Kingsley Smith, then Director of Telecommunications at the Belize Public Utilities Commission said, “This development is expected to provide significant benefits to local ISPs and the Internet users in Belize.”
With the signing finally becoming a reality, Belizean Internet users are one step closer to a faster, stronger and more secure Internet.