Internet eXchange points (IXPs) have played an important role in the development of the Internet in many countries around the world. They provide faster, more robust, and cheaper Internet connectivity. IXPs have evolved over time, and generally follow the evolution of the local Internet market. While IXPs are taken for granted in many countries, they grew over time as they solved the needs of network operators in those markets – in other words – they started out small and grew over time to meet the needs of their environment. Successful IXPs around the world, all grew out of the trust that local Internet operators and communities put into these IXPs, and their ability to positively contribute to the performance, lowered cost, and robustness of the local Internet infrastructure.
Where IXPs do not yet exist, many stakeholders will try and address the gap, among them policy-makers and regulators. In these discussions, one of the first hurdles that must be overcome is how to get the operators to join the IXP? An option that is frequently considered is regulation or government intervention in the market. In reality, what is needed to make an IXP sustainable and a success is the same the world over: trust, community building, and an understanding of the common good that peering brings. Trust between the network operators planning to connect or that would benefit from connecting is not built by regulation or government mandate. Trust takes time, and at a first glance cooperating with your competitors by exchanging traffic over an IXP might seem counter-intuitive. But, by keeping traffic local, and using money saved from transit costs, operators instead can invest in their infrastructure and compete with service offerings. This evolution has occurred in all regions of the world, and in all markets with successful IXPs.
Regulation and government policies do have an affect on the environment in which IXPs can form. Closed or heavily regulated environments will be counter-productive to the formation of an IXP, as an IXP relies heavily on being able to attract operators to peer. The regulatory environments that have been most favourable to successful IXPs are ones where no or light regulation is in place in the communications market. In some countries, government agencies have helped develop IXPs, but typically they have not managed or operated them.
So while regulation and government intervention might seem as a fast first step, they are usually counter-productive. An IXP needs to build a sustainable model, both financially and trust wise in order to be viable long term. This should be established by the local network operator community. In some cases, IXPs have been established by national research and educational networks (NRENs), or local Universities or academic networks can also provide a stable base for the establishment of an IXP – either as a transitional or permanent arrangement, since the level of trust, cooperation and technical skills required can often be found there. A number of successful IXPs also were formed by either existing Internet Service Provider (ISP) associations or as cooperative organizations that have sprung out of the local ISP community, where again, trust levels are usually quite high.
When establishing an IXP today, there are several resources that can be drawn upon for the start-up phase. These include knowledge sharing from existing, successful IXPs. For example, through IXP Associations represented in the Internet eXchange Foundation (IX-F) (e.g., Af-IX, APIX, Euro-IX and LAC-IX). Several of these IX associations are running dedicated programs for knowledge transfer such as the Euro-IX twinning program or through knowledge transfer at LAC-IX. Using these organizations or working with an existing IXP might help encourage and educate the local network operator community, and, in the process build the trust needed to bring a community together to establish an IXP. Learning from trust-building efforts that took place in other countries and from local experience can help speed-up the process for building the confidence and momentum that the local community needs to form an IXP.
In summary, factors that promote environments where successful IXPs have formed:
Regulatory framework that fosters internet traffic exchange and education on why and how this is important.