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IXPs and CDNs Critical to the Future of Competitive Broadband Internet

Bill St. Arnaud

We continue to see consolidation in the broadband market and various games played by the cablecos and telcos to thwart competition or undermine network neutrality (See links below).

Until regulators create true structural separation between infrastructure and service providers the chances of seeing genuine broadband competition are slim. It is interesting to note telecom regulators in North America have imposed structural separation in the past. In the 1970s when the cable industry was a fledgling startup industry the FCC in the US and the CRTC in Canada passed regulations forbidding telephone companies to acquire and/or compete with cable companies. This enabled the creation of a entirely new business sector — cable television- who now dominates the broadcast and Internet market place. If regulators and governments are interested in stimulating the economy and creating new business opportunities, it is time they study their past successes and breakup up today's oligopolies by imposing structural separation and allow a true competitive market in broadband Internet.

In the mean time the one bright spot in the competitive marketplace is the development of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) and the collocation of Content Distribution Networks (CDNs). In a recent a talk at RIPE-64 given by Kurtis Lindqvist demonstrated that IXPs will be even more important as broadband speeds increase. With larger and larger data flows the need to interconnect at an IXP to a CDN network or peering network will becoming increasingly important. (See: Kurtis Lindqvist - The History of Peering in Europe and What This Can Teach Us About the Future)

I am very pleased to see that Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has taken a very important leadership role in Canada in this regard. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the CIRA board). CIRA has undertaken an active program to help qualified communities, independent ISPs, regional R&E networks and others to deploy IXPs in their community. CIRA's overall goal is to have local members build and operate the IXP, with CIRA bringing technical expertise, stability, back office functions, governance assistance, content providers and, if required, some financial and gear support. Most significantly CIRA will help the IXP provide a variety of DNS hosting services (which can improve responsiveness and reliability for connected users) as well arranging CDN networks to collocate at the facility.

The combination of these services — peering, DNS and CDN — will provide connected independent ISPs, R&E networks, community broadband networks and other organizations the capability to provide services to their targeted communities and provide a modicum of competition to the local incumbent oligopoly. This service by CIRA will be especially important for small business, community and R&E networks as they look to deliver or use cloud services and wireless applications to their local communities. The integration of WiFi with 3G/4G with anytime, anywhere, any device communications for education and research will also be critically dependent on these facilities.

Further reading:
7 ways Comcast is killing the cable killers GigaOm
Keeping the Internet Neutral New York Times

By Bill St. Arnaud , Green IT Networking Consultant
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