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International Internet Connectivity

Over the past 40 years, global telecommunications carriers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have built up a global backbone for international Internet connectivity (IIC) that binds together the networks of countries and major cities. International Internet Connectivity (IIC) is a key area of study for ITU-T Study Group 3 (under its Question 6/3). The Study Group has been examining this issue since the 1990s.

In 2000, ITU offered its first sets of guidelines and criteria on IIC with the aim of assisting administrations with their bilateral negotiations. These guidelines and criteria were published as Recommendation ITU-T D.50, an international standard last updated in 2011, with a further supplement agreed in 2013.

Developing countries in particular face significant challenges when it comes to IIC. When an Internet user in a developing region such as Africa or Asia sends an email to a friend in the same city or a nearby country, that IP data may travel all the way to Europe or the US before returning to that same city or a neighbouring country. The result is that Internet traffic can be far more costly in developing countries than developed countries.

For developing regions, IP traffic may not be routed locally but might have to be transported internationally due to the lack of national IP connections. In the absence of local fixed network infrastructure, Internet traffic may have to take a far more circuitous route to reach its destination. That might well include international transit over the Internet backbone at inflated costs. 

This challenge is compounded by the fact that some developing countries, and even whole regions, are not yet served by undersea communications cables, forcing them to rely on higher priced satellite access. The costing issue is exacerbated if the international gateway that carries IP data to other countries is available solely from a local incumbent monopoly that faces no competition on rates. Further questions are raised by debate as to whether the international bandwidth market in developing regions is really as competitive as might be expected. Consequently, prices tend to remain high.

The development of local Internet connectivity networks is now of paramount importance to developing regions. If developing countries could increase their ability to exchange traffic locally, at the national and regional level, these countries could avoid the use of expensive international bandwidth.
Establishing a local Internet Exchange Point (IXP) is one possible solution. An IXP interconnects ISPs in a country or region. These ISPs can then exchange domestic Internet traffic locally, without having to send that traffic across multiple international transit routes to reach the local destination. In addition, more outgoing traffic and more regional IP carriers may make it feasible for these carriers to establish peering agreements with their international counterparts, with the effect of lowering the wholesale costs of international IP traffic.
WTSA-16 approved a new international standard – Recommendation ITU-T D.52 “Establishing and connecting regional Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) to reduce costs of international Internet connectivity” – to guide regional collaboration to establish central hubs (IXPs) that enable local Internet traffic to be routed locally, saving international bandwidth and reducing the costs of international Internet connectivity.  

​ITU-T Study Group 3 has also launched new work to develop a cost model for IIC.

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