Peer(ing) Pressure: Why PLDT should give in

07 Jul 2014

Continued from Part 2

On June 27, the Department of Science and Technology in collaboration with the Internet Society – Philippine chapter held a forum on the impact and benefits of the internet exchange (IX). The event, which also served as a gathering of the Philippine Network Operators Group (PHNOG), was in line with the 2014 National ICT Month celebration.

Hong Kong Internet eXchange’s Mr. Che-Hoo Cheng, who joined the forum remotely, highlighted how the HKIX helps keep intra-Asia traffic within the region. Through the IX, network latency is very good at ~50ms to Tokyo and ~30ms to Singapore (acceptable latemcy based on IDA standard is ~300ms). This makes the HKIX a key information infrastructure that brings faster and cheaper connectivity to Hong Kong citizens, and facilitates competition in the telecommunication sector.

The need for real competition was the main point of Synacy CEO Rhett Jones, who talked about Philippine internet from a wholesale perspective. The bandwidth pricing data that he presented was particularly jolting. Comparing the wholesale cost of dedicated business grade bandwidth, Mr. Jones showed that 1 Mbps that costs $5 in Hong Kong would cost up to $45 in Manila.

The forum raised a lot of good ideas as it did many issues about quality of service, pricing, and the need to regulate certain segments of the internet ecosystem. Too bad the major telcos, save for Globe Telecom, and the government regulator were not present to address these critical questions.

Here is the last leg of my three-part interview with Wilson Chua of Bitstop, the first local ISP to peer through the PHOpenIX, the only publicly funded, neutral, and non-profit internet exchange point in the country.

TA: Incumbent telcos around the world often refuse peering because of fears that it would allow small ISPs to use their “big pipes” going abroad, for free. What do you think of this argument?

Are we to believe that world-class telecommunications companies do not have the technological superiority to prevent international link access in a peering arrangement? It’s a non-issue among so many telcos using IXPs (e.g., AMIX, HKIX, JIX, etc.).

It may not be well known to laymen, but to the ISPs and telco operators, there are well known measures to PREVENT this such as, but not limited to, route filtering, ACL (access control list), BGP route filtering, just to name but a few.

On the flipside, have you heard of the ‘thin pipe stratagem’? This was used by some incumbent telcos to create an artificial bottleneck. It backfired in Kenya (now home to the KIXP, the largest in East Africa). Could it be used in the Philippines just out of spite?

TA: The Philippines' incumbent telco, PLDT, has publicly objected to settlement-free local IP peering, arguing that peering will not derive any value for them since it will “allow their facilities to be burdened by the traffic of other ISPs free of charge.” In other words, peering is unfair to the incumbent telco and benefits only the other ISPs who would be allowed to ride on the facilities and infrastructure that they have invested heavily in. In addition, peering is said to be a disincentive for companies “to further invest in upgrading, improving, and expanding their respective infrastructure.” What can you say about this argument?

PLDT also benefits from peering by using the infrastructure investment of the other telcos. In areas where PLDT is absent, other telcos and ISPs provide internet service. By peering, PLDT’s clients can now connect more directly to non-PLDT customers. The benefits go both ways.

Look at HKIX and SGIX where the incumbent telcos (PCCW and Singtel) are peered. These telcos understand the concept; that is why they are peered with the IXs.

TA: An important concern raised by PLDT is the technical capability of government to maintain and secure an IXP. What do you think of how the PHOpenIX is being run? Do you have any suggestions on how to improve it?

I have the honor to be the longest peered network in PHOpenIX. They have only been down for 10-15 minutes during all that time. That was the time they shifted us over from Globe Telecom’s data center to their own government run data center.

In service terms, PHOpenIX’s service level agreement (SLA) is 99.9999%. (6 sigma) which is higher than what the dominant carrier (which claims to have premium service) has given to us in the past three months alone (three fiber disconnections, 2-3 day downtime, etc).

As PHOpenIX gains a critical mass of connected users, I can see that they will need to start planning to support 10 Gbps ports in the near future. That will take money. Anyone out there willing to donate 10-Gbps switching equipment?

TA: A Senate inquiry investigated the country’s slow and expensive internet. In that hearing, local IP peering was discussed, and now there seems to be a growing awareness about it. Your thoughts on this new development?

I was very impressed with Senator Bam Aquino. He seems to be genuinely interested in the plight of the internet community. He is highly intelligent and I assume that he has intelligent staff behind him that he manages to ask the right questions. I hope he has the political will to carry this through, though.

There is an ongoing online petition asking PLDT to peer. Although it garnered only 1,300+ signatures to date, it is a good sign that Filipinos are becoming more aware of the concept of peering. Can you imagine the same petition getting any more than 100 signatures just a year ago? Another petitiondemanding cheaper, faster, and more accessible PH internet has garnered almost 6,500 signatures. But for change to happen, our reform-minded politicians should also be supportive.

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