One of the regrettable features of our fixation in recent times with competition — or the lack of it — in our telecommunications sphere is that it tends to marginalise an equally important c-word — cooperation. Cooperative behaviour between users, ISPs and carriers has been a key element in the development of the Internet. It doesn’t spurn competitive advantage — just allows it to be pursued on the basis that better interconnection benefits everybody. New Zealand’s Internet infrastructure used to be explicitly co-operative. Tuia, an incorporated society formed by research and educational institutions, managed the national backbone on a cost-recovery basis. But as the demand for international capacity went through the roof in the middle of this decade, it was inevitable that the big IP (Internet protocol) jobs should pass to private carriers. That shift has greatly increased the bandwidth available, both within New Zealand and to the outside world, but it has, inevitably, seen some balkanisation. NetGate, the hub of the country’s Internet traffic, still resides in Hamilton as a legacy of its roots in Waikato University’s information services department. But, as Victoria University’s Donald Neal noted in the Isocnz mailing list recently, New Zealand now has no Internet backbone: "A number of corporates, including ISPs, operate their own medium and long-distance links using point-to-point services provided by telcos," says Neal. "The nearest thing to such a backbone would be the high-capacity networks operated by Clear and Telecom, but even these are not visible to customers except as particular services sold by those companies." With large commercial companies typically keeping details of their own networks confidential, says Neal, it is almost impossible to draw up a topology of New Zealand’s Internet. The absence of a formal structure means it is also vitally important that those companies cooperate to make sure that traffic passes as smoothly between them as possible. A small round of applause, then, for the Auckland Peering Exchange (APE). The APE, which was set up in the Auckland Sky Tower in August, is a neutral facility which grew from discussions in the network operators’ mailing list and is as good an example of managed mutual betterment as we could hope for. Anyone can join and participants are free to negotiate their own bilateral routing arrangements, on the assumption, says APE organiser Joe Abley, that they will "do the right thing". The Sky Tower itself is a telecommunications facility not associated with any user and where, according to Johnson Dick Associates, which manages its telecomms business, "monopolistic behaviour is not allowed". The APE’s studied atmosphere of neutrality was also fostered by the recruitment of Wellington’s CityLink, rather than a national carrier, to install and maintain a switch donated by Cisco. Use of the switch for peering is free. This month Telstra, which is shaping up as a key player in the national IP scene, joined CityLink, Clear and Plain Communications as an active participant in the exchange. Other large organisations will have to make their own decisions, and they may conclude that other approaches to peering in an increasingly complex routing environment are more appropriate for them. But we can only hope that in making those decisions, they listen carefully to their own network operators. The Auckland Peering Exchange Web site is at: www.patho.gen.nz/ape. Russell Brown edits the @IDG online news service. Send comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think that we need more co-operation in the web space, let us know...post a comment in the discussion below email@example.com
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