Why Seacom de-peered smaller ISPs

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Internet service provider (ISP) Seacom recently had to change its peering policy in order to clean up its network of peers.

So said Byron Clatterbuck, CEO of Seacom, in an exclusive interview with ITWeb on Friday.

Clatterbuck was responding to reports that said Seacom implemented a new peering policy which prevented many South African ISPs from peering directly with the company.

“That got very misconstrued and I think we could have handled that better,” he said. “From the beginning and up until now, we still openly peer with anyone. However, within that peering, there is paid peering and there is peering between peers, which means we are of relatively equal stature. This means you have content that I need, and I have content that you need, then we decide to peer.”

According to Clatterbuck, when Seacom reviewed a lot of the ISPs it had originally set up for open and free peering, it found out they were getting a lot of benefits from Seacom but the company was not getting anything from them.

“So we decided to clean up our network of peers. This is because even if this is peering, there are some costs that are involved in managing those peering connections, especially in regards to the smaller ISPs.

“If you go back in history, when you say a ‘peer’ it means someone who is at my level. So the history is that companies like Internet Solutions, Telkom, MWeb, Seacom, etc, we all have big amounts of data on our network. We say to each other ‘I am not going to buy from you or sell to you, but we are just going to openly peer’.

“That means traffic is openly exchanged across our networks and no money exchanges hands. Now you find out that the smaller ISPs don’t have as much traffic, content or customers. So in such a scenario, we ask them to buy from us but when you have some content, then we can come up with some arrangement as there is free peering as well as paid peering.”

Network clean-up

In a prepared statement read to ITWeb on the issue, Clatterbuck said: “After years of successfully opening up the Internet industry for all Africa, Seacom recently took a decision to clean up its network and relook at its open peering policy.

“What we discovered was that over the years, we had openly allowed all sizes and shapes of ISPs across Africa and the region to peer with Seacom at no charge and on a totally open basis. This was great for the industry at that time and also great for a lot of smaller players because Seacom gave them a leg up to get them started in the industry.

“However, as we know, the Internet is a two-way relationship. We open our network to you and you open up your network to us. We both must have something of value, and by peering, we allow this value to flow over our peering connection.

“On closer inspection, we found that despite the many peers we had allowed peering on a free and open basis, there were several customers, for various reasons, that were using Seacom’s network but not providing us with anything in return.

“It was for this reason that we decided we needed to change our policy so that it allows us to de-peer from some of these smaller networks.

“Seacom continues to openly and freely peer with more than 95% of its peers and there has been no change to these relationships whatsoever.

“And at the time, Seacom has maintained the strength of its international Internet network and content with our key paid peers as we actually pay for peering in Europe and in India to support our customers. All these things have costs.

“So as a business that wants to be fair and open, we also need to survive in this ecosystem and continue to grow and provide a better service to our customers. We can assure the Internet industry that it’s always our intention to help develop the best Internet platform in Africa and sometimes to do that, we have to adjust to the market and make decisions that some in the industry may not like.”

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