Byron Holland is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). View bio
For many of you, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but over the past decade Canada has lost its leadership position in the global digital economy.
In just about any indicator you care to pick, from the OECD to the Berkman Center, it is clear that Canada has slipped into the bottom quartile compared to its international counterparts. I’m not just talking about pipes and pricing, I’m talking about the entire Internet ecosystem, from innovation and venture capital to policy and infrastructure.
On the infrastructure side, this is particularly evident in Canada’s very low number of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).
An IXP allows local network traffic to take shorter, faster paths between member networks, alleviating congestion on major Internet backbones and helping to reduce network costs. This results in a substantial improvement in local Internet performance and resiliency. The benefit is highly visible to end-users who would, as an example, experience less jitter when using Skype or watching video. With the current infrastructure, packets must travel much further than they would were there an IXP nearby, reducing latency and improving resiliency.
There are about 350 IXPs around the world and they have proven to be integral to the Internet infrastructure of many nations. The United States has about 85, thanks largely to the efforts of the private sector. In Canada we have only two, notably OTTIX in Ottawa and TORIX in Toronto.
Simply put, Canada is not keeping pace with other OECD countries.
There is nothing to be gained by dwelling in the past and pointing fingers of blame about why this was allowed to happen. What we must focus on today is where we need to go and what it will take to get there. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the .CA domain this year, it is more important than ever to take stock of how we can continue to improve the Internet in Canada and ensure that we have a strong digital economy for the next 25 years.
Last fall at the ISP Summit in Toronto, I asked Canada’s Internet business leaders to join me in working together to restore Canada’s position as a leading tech nation. Part of what I called on them to do is work with us to establish a robust community of IXPs across Canada. For the past seven months, CIRA has been talking to community-based stakeholders about IXPs, and we recently launched an IXP wiki for these stakeholders to share their activities with regard to establishing IXPs.
Based on independent expert research that identifies optimal IXP locations based on data flow, population and geography, CIRA has identified a number of locations across the country that would be ideally situated for IXPs. We’ve started a dialogue with a number of interested parties, such as Winnipeg’s MBIX, Montreal’s B2B2C, Colbanet, Oricom, Teksavvy, Telnet Communications, Electronic Box, and VIF Internet. We’ve also been speaking with members of the Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Halifax’s Internet communities. A meeting of the Montreal community members will be held shortly.
Creating more IXPs is about improving security, speed and network resilience, while maximizing the amount of traffic that stays within Canada for the benefit of all Canadians. While CIRA has no desire to operate IXPs, we are committed to bringing together the resources necessary to facilitate their development. We can’t do this alone; it will require investments, new servers and other hardware to achieve the vision. Today, we are once again calling on all stakeholders in Canada’s digital economy, including network operators, Internet service providers (ISPs) and others from the public and private sectors to work together and with CIRA to create more IXPs across the country.
It’s not like we have to clear new ground to create these IXPs. We can learn from the pioneers in the Canadian IXP space – TORIX and OTTIX. In fact, CIRA already has a relationship with these IXPs (we are a member both of these organizations), and we look forward to continuing these positive relationships and learning from the expertise that they bring to the table.
If we are to compete on the global marketplace, we as a nation must have the vision and commitment to build the modern infrastructure required. A robust Canadian Internet infrastructure, including a nation-wide fabric of IXPs, is the 21st century equivalent of the railway that connected our country in the 19th century. If we could achieve that, we can certainly achieve this.
Keeping more of our domestic traffic in Canada will improve security, speed of data and network resilience for the benefit of all Canadians. We have to do this, because no one else will do it for us and we can’t afford to settle for the status quo. As we prepare to celebrate all things Canadian on July 1, what better time to continue this discussion in earnest.