WILLEMSTAD, Cura�ao-Failing to convert brilliant business ideas to real returns is costing online entrepreneurs big time. That's why in the Caribbean, stakeholders are starting to pay closer attention to external factors impacting their bottom line.
One such factor is the underdevelopment of critical Internet infrastructure in the region. Across the Caribbean, local Internet service providers (ISPs) are paying overseas carriers to exchange local Internet traffic between their local networks. This is an unnecessarily costly and inefficient way of handling in-country exchange of Internet traffic. And naturally, that expense and inconvenience are borne by the end-user.
But there is a better way, according to Kurleigh Prescod, Vice President of Network and ICT Services for the southern Caribbean at Columbus Communications, a major player in the regional telecommunications landscape.
Speaking at the 9th Caribbean Internet Governance Forum (CIGF) held at the Curacao World Trade Centre on September 11, Prescod acknowledged that the region was heavily dependent on foreign infrastructure for Internet access, especially U.S. infrastructure. But he shared valuable insights on how Columbus was responding to the regional challenge.
Citing the example of Grenada, Prescod identified the island's Internet Exchange Point (IXP) as a key component of the critical infrastructure that allowed Columbus to work with other ISPs to exchange local Internet traffic between their networks without cost. Through the IXP, Internet traffic originating in Grenada now terminates on other local networks without having to go through lengthy, expensive, international routes, he said.
In Curacao, Columbus joined that island's IXP (AMS-IX Caribbean), and is now working to support the Exchange's caching operations.
"There are two sides to caching," Prescod explained. "One is the caching box, which provides the content to the users. But you also have to get that content. So we are actually engaged in Curacao to provide that foreign content for those providers, cache it, and then serve it to the users.
"So not only are we a member of the AMS-IX, but we also serve the global Internet to all of the caching boxes in Curacao today. In the interest of supporting the development of the broadband economy here in Curacao, we thought it was important we do so."
Prescod is also one of the board members of a third Caribbean Internet Exchange recently incorporated as a non-profit company in Trinidad and Tobago. And he is hopeful that the southernmost Caribbean island will be next in line to successfully establish a fully functional Exchange.
"At this time, we've only gotten consensus around seven Internet Service Providers that there should be an Exchange," he said. "We've sort of decided on a technical model and we're looking over the two to six months to implement that model."
Prescod was speaking as part of a multinational, multi-stakeholder panel discussion in the morning session of the CIGF. Alongside him were Nico Scheper (Netherlands), Craig Nesty (Dominica) and Bevil Wooding (Trinidad and Tobago). Their discussion emphasised the essential link between the performance of critical Internet infrastructure and the stimulation of the Internet economy in the region.
"Establishing a local IXP can bring many benefits to Caribbean citizens, including faster domestic Internet traffic exchange and a more resilient local network," said Wooding in a post-event interview.
He added, "IXPs are a critical component of the local Internet economy, but they're not the only component."
As a whole, the Caribbean region is served by only six IXPs.Apart from Curacao, they are in the British Virgin Islands, Haiti, Grenada, St Maarten and Dominica.
Stakeholders from the Caribbean and Latin America gathered in Curacao to engage discuss and develop policies and structures for regional Internet governance. The CIGF, which was organised by the Caribbean Telecommunications Union at the request of the CARICOM Secretariat, emphasises a multi-stakeholder approach to the development of regional Internet Governance policy, drawing on the expertise and experiences of policy makers, regulators, service providers, content providers, consumer groups, academia, professionals, end users and other Internet interest groups in the region.
Gerard Best is New Media Editor at Guardian Media Limited. He isa Caribbean journalist, blogger and social media specialist based in Trinidad and Tobago. His experience spans traditional and new media platforms and includes work on print, radio and television for major media houses. His writing and poetry has garnered international awards and regional recognition. He holds postgraduate qualifications in Development Journalism and Media Ethics and a profound interest in all things Caribbean. He blogs at blogosphere.