The wacky, weird world of not peering

With continued data growth, IP-based voice and video becoming widespread, and an increasing number of networks being developed, it is critical that local data is kept local

Would it make sense for courier packages being sent overnight across Wellington City to travel via Auckland, or to Australia — or even the US and back, before delivery? It makes no more sense for internet data packets.

What we have had in New Zealand since 2004 is two of the largest internet “couriers” playing hardball with the smaller ones, saying if you don’t pay us then packages your customers are sending and receiving to and from our customers won’t be allowed through, even if it’s all local. Those packages will have to find their own way via other routes, even if those routes are overseas.

Of course all this happens in the background so the customer may have no idea why their internet experience is slower than it needs to be, and no idea they may be unnecessarily using international bandwidth, or that the internet itself is less robust and lower capacity than it could be.

Thankfully we have heard that Telecom is reconsidering its approach and we say it is about time. With continued data growth, IP-based voice and video becoming widespread, and an increasing number of networks being developed, it is critical that local data is kept local and the most efficient paths across the network are utilised.

Telecom has recently been reported in the media as saying it is seriously looking at and now supports the concept of local internet interconnection. Rumours abound of a June/July timetable. Of course for their customers, and TelstraClear’s, one would expect they never stopped local interconnection, but this move would re-integrate Telecom with the rest of the internet at a local level.

The concept of peering is well understood within the technical departments of telecommunications and internet service providers. It is simply where organisations exchange data between their networks without charging each other. This is not to say there isn’t a cost — each pays to maintain their end of the connection and pays a fee for the use of an internet exchange if one is used.

Prior to the 2004 de-peering debacle the dominant telcos took part in the exchange of data free of traffic charges between all their national customers and other ISPs’ customers. This Telecom move won’t take us back to that, and there is discussion about whether it should, but either way it will be an improvement and is a win for common sense.

In New Zealand the term peering is often thought of in terms of the regional exchanges such as the Wellington Internet Exchange and the Auckland Peering Exchange. However, peering can be direct link between two parties. Also, not every connection at an exchange is peering, for example one player may be charging those that connect to it across the exchange.

Independent content providers such as Trade Me and Stuff* also peer at internet exchanges and this is a very efficient way to distribute their data. That efficiency is lost when telcos play hardball and demand payment from the content provider and has led to the silly situation where Radio New Zealand hosts content overseas to reach Telecom and TelstraClear customers.

One has to ask whether Telecom and TelstraClear are serving their customers’ interests in this case.

Peering also works with AnyCast technology, where duplicated servers connected to peering exchanges in each region can serve a customer according to which is closest. This is what Radio New Zealand is doing to reach customers whose ISPs peer in New Zealand.

ISPs have waited a long time for Telecom and TelstraClear to recognise the error of their ways and return to peering.

As ISPANZ (The ISP Association of New Zealand) says in its recently released Position Paper on Peering, “Exchanging local data locally just makes sense. Exchanging local data internationally is nonsense.”

In that paper we have called on the Government to require its suppliers to peer as a way of putting pressure on Telecom and TelstraClear, noting it would also mitigate the risk of sensitive government data being exchanged internationally.

Recently ISPANZ’s position has been contrasted to Rod Drury’s call for a new national fibre network that includes peering exchanges (Computerworld, March 12). ISPANZ is all in favour of peering, and as an industry organisation has not had time at this point to consider the rest of Rod’s proposal. No comment has been made yet on that subject so it is hard to see where the conflict may have been perceived. What will guide us is our Association’s mission, as it has with peering.

ISPANZ exists to promote a fair and fully competitive internet marketplace where our members can deliver the full benefits of the internet to the New Zealand public and our economy.

This includes improving New Zealand’s poor international ranking for broadband uptake, enabling New Zealand businesses to become more competitive internationally through use of internet-enabled technology, improving internet pricing and services for ordinary New Zealanders, and enabling New Zealand to reap significant economic benefits as it becomes a broadband-enabled society.

*Both owned by Fairfax, the publisher of Computerworld

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Tags peeringbandwidthtelecomIPispanzTelstraClear

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