Laying the foundation for a higher performing Internet in Canada

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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.

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  • Frank Michlick

    Will the meeting in Montreal be accessible to the public and/or CIRA members? I’d like to participate.

  • http://jamesplotkin.blogspot.com/ James Plotkin

    I wonder if the establishment of new IXPs will ever result in reduced end user costs. It seems that the more of these we have, the more efficient our network is. I would like to see the benefits accrued from the establisment of more IXPs trickle down to end users.

    Great post. thanks!

  • Rubens Kuhl

    Although not an OECD country, Brazil has 21 IXPs and plans to grow up to 70 locations… Brazil and Canada are similar in area size and GDP magnitude, so one could expect a similar IXP footprint.

  • Colin

    Like most other things, it comes down to costs… I’ve been to MBIX meetings and while there’s a strong spirit to start an IXP, very few businesses see the point of spending $20000 in fiber/ gigabit radio link to connect to the IXP when it’s in the short run much cheaper to get bandwidth from Toronto or the US. The only way CIRA can help IXP efforts is to get the CDNs on board… The large reduction in b/w costs if ISPs can get access to a caching server will make the connection to an IXP much more financially viable.
    Other than that, talk about ‘we should do this’ doesn’t buy much fiber…

  • Byron

    Hi Frank,

    This is very early days, but typically IX members are either “content providers” (think Google or Akamai) or “content distributors” (typically ISPs). There are other types of members, but generally speaking they are all entities that have a reason to plug into and IX.

    That said, it will be up tot he local community forming the IX to make those kinds of membership/attendance decisions.

    Byron

  • Byron

    Colin

    You are correct, there need to be real financial reasons for ISPs and content providers to come together to participate in an IX. Pricing, access to caching servers, and agreeing to cooperate with your competitors are all challenges that every IX will have to face. And in Canada we have a history of not doing sustainable IXs (except in Toronto and Ottawa).

    That said, many countries have faced many of these issues and managed to overcome them. Just because it has always been so does not mean it always has to be. Hopefully CIRA can be a catalyst for this change along with the many folks in the industry who have indicated their interest.

    Byron

  • http://www.getatrip.com Trip

    I hope this is not off-topc, though this is what comes to mind after I read this post: I have never actually been to Canada, but do know this. While you talk about this falling tech stuff or internet points in Canada, after seeing that show on T.V. by Michael Moore about Columbine and why Canada has less guns and violence than the United States by a ridiculously wide margin, I would have to say Canada is doing something more right than wrong.

    What he pinpointed down was the amount of “negative violent news” in the United States vs. the more positive news coming from news stations in Canada. His point is if you hear all day, day after day, nothing more than how your community is about murder,drive-by shootings, child abuse, rape, robbery and mayhem than it creates a hypervigilent society, where people want to arm themselves for protection against an out of control society – makes sense!

    My point is let Canada grow at the rate of “world connectedness” that it needs to. Sometimes too much information is not always a good thing. Learn from the Americans…I wouold much rather have the peace you Canadians have. Cheers, RJ Trip

  • Adam

    Montreal has already had an IX for many years now, QIX, which many of your interested parties are members of. Could you talk about what this new Montreal IX will offer that the existing Montreal IX doesn’t?

  • Patrick

    Isn’t there also QIX in Montreal? It may not be as open, only accepting ISP and not content providers.

  • Byron

    Patrick
    There is an R&E network, the RISQ ( http://www.risq.qc.ca/ )in Montreal. Its primary job, as an offshoot of government, is to support the research, engineering, and academic community within the province. In other words, its customers are primarily government or academic, its governance is top-down versus member based, and until a couple of months ago it did not accept ISPs into its exchange.

    Typically an R&E network can be an important member of an exchange, but from a global perspective it is quite unusual to have an R&E network run a successful, fully developed Internet Exchange. See this paper from one of the global experts on the subject for a really good overview on IXs in Canada
    http://www.scribd.com/doc/105832435/Toward-Efficiencies-in-Canadian-Internet-Traffic-Exchange

    Byron

  • Pierre Bouchard

    Indeed, there’s QIX in Montreal for almost 15 years, and Peer1. We could also mention Cologix, large colocation centre with more than 70 carriers
    (http://www.cologix.com/en/interconnection/interactive-meet-me-room.html)
    So I suggest to rewrite your article.