Telco2 Limited 27 Austin Street, Mount Victoria, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
Project Title A Peering Strategy for the Pacific Islands (Second phase)
Amount Awarded 44,600 AUD
Dates covered by this report: 2016-11-30 to 2019-11-30
Report submission date 2019-11-30
Economies where project was implemented New Zealand
Project leader name
Jonathan Brewer

Project Summary

Many telecommunications networks in the Pacific interconnect not directly but via international carriers in the United States or Australia. This has a profound impact on both the cost and the performance of regional traffic. While web traffic is slowed, real-time collaborations are rendered unusable, creating barriers for inter-island collaboration. Governments, competitive carriers, Internet societies, and activists argue that direct interconnection, or peering, is the answer to these performance problems. They believe that if competitive networks are allowed to exchange traffic free-of-charge with incumbent networks, the cost of Internet will go down, and performance will go up. Incumbent networks throughout the Pacific steadfastly refuse to openly peer with other carriers, education networks, and government networks – and a change in this behaviour is not in sight. Not only do they refuse to peer, they sometimes charge their competitors more for direct access to their networks than competitors pay for global Internet connectivity. Competitors, activists, and even governments say this is a clear violation of network neutrality. This project investigating carrier interconnections in the Pacific has shown the situation to be far more nuanced. This project's objective was to share research collected during an earlier iteration of the project via the web in a dynamic way. This included information on physical and routed topologies, telecommunications market data, and information on the relationships Pacific Island nations have with the rest of the world. In support of these objectives, the project has produced a website that reviews the telecommunications environment of the Pacific Islands. The site looks at each market's connectivity to the world: telecommunications, sea freight, air routes, and trade. It provides real-time statistics on carrier market share. Finally, it considers the complexity of island telecommunications through a composite case study on peering.

Table of contents

Background and justification

When the project started, most telecommunications networks in the Pacific interconnected in Asia, Australia, or the United States. This had a profound impact on both the cost and the performance of regional traffic. It discouraged regional interactions, and in particular erected barriers to research and education.

Many stakeholders in the Pacific did not fully understand the impact overseas interconnection had. Few looked beyond the problems of their own country or organization. This lack of understanding perpetuated cost and performance problems for all users. In some cases, it significantly lessened the impact of new submarine cable infrastructure.

Several cases illustrate the difficulties of the Pacific.

  • Most Samoan traffic between providers and universities routes via the United States. Technical workers at three providers and two universities are interested in establishing an exchange. Workshops were held by ISOC, and equipment for the exchange donated by NSRC. No progress in turning the exchange on has been made since equipment was delivered in 2015.
  • Samoa's closest political and commercial ties are to New Zealand and Australia. When its new submarine cable to Fiji was built, a decision was made by the Samoa Submarine Cable Corporation to purchase connectivity directly to the United States on the Southern Cross Cable, as it offered the cheapest "Internet" connectivity. This has resulted in all AU/NZ traffic routing from Fiji, to Oregon, to Los Angeles, before travelling back across the Pacific to get to Australia and New Zealand.
  • Vanuatu was for a time the Pacific's only success story for keeping local traffic local. The Vanuatu Exchange launched around the same time as a submarine fibre cable connected the country to Fiji. It was a tremendous help to the speed and resilience of Vanuatu’s Internet, but was politically unpopular due to its lowering traffic requirements on the country’s sole submarine cable – a cable partly owned by the government. A regulatory ruling, interference by the government with the regulator, then court action against the government have all been a part of Vanuatu's peering story.

This project sought to promote better understanding of both the requirements for and the availibility of telecommunications infrastructure and operators. Its methods included:

  • education on the commercial, technical, and performance issues that accompany overseas interconnections.
  • cataloging of demand for communications via identifying island nations' trading partners
  • mapping of infrastructure in the form of submarine cables, air routes, and shipping routes
  • cataloging operators and the development of infrastructure throughout the region

Project Implementation

While earlier phases of the project involved tens of collaborators across multiple countries, this phase of the project was entirely focussed on technical implementation. During the first phase of the project the needs of the beneficiary community were assessed via direct interviews. In this stage the final product was designed around their needs. As needs were already assessed, only a small team of implementers was required to unlock collected data and knowledge and present it in an easy-to-consume fashion.

Major project activities and a timeline of when they were executed are presented below.

Project activitiesInputOutputsTimelineStatus
Database schemaNo schema existed.Database schema was created, implemented in development and production, and documented in Confluence.11-2016 through 6-2017Further development may occur to provide for any new functionality desired. No further development is required to achieve project goals.
Measurements PopulatedMeasurements existed across a large number of disparate systems.Measurement aggregation was implemented.09-2017A single repository of measurements exists in an Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) instance in Sydney.
Island Relationship visualisationsNo other visualisations existed.Visualisations of economic data that are dynamically updated on an annual basis have been created and put into production.1-2017 through 3-2017Monthly programs run on an automatic basis to pull in any new data relevant to how Pacific Island economies interact with the rest of the world have not pulled in recent data. They must be investigated and repaired to ensure the latest data is available online.
Market Size calculationsExisting market estimates available via APNIC were very inaccurate due to a measurement system based on ASN.Python code and metadata tables were written, tested, and deployed.1-2017 through 9-2019Metadata tables allowing the share calculations must be manually curated to allow for new market entrants and consolidation of existing operators. This activity will be ongoing throughout the project.
Submarine Fibre MapsRough maps showing connections were prepared in 2016. Environmental and construction documents existed detailing actual fibre paths and distances.New fibre paths with accurate distance/latency measurements were created and uploaded to the Carto GIS platform.8-2018 through 9-2018All cables are live in Carto. New maps must be ported into the beta Pacpeer website with a code change.
New Submarine Cable MapsMaps through 2018 were current in Carto but not live on the main website.New maps were added for new cables deployed in 2018-2019. The main website's code was updated to reference the new maps.6-2019 through 8-2019All cables are live on the new website.
Knowledge BaseA private knowledge base had hundreds of documents in a format accessible only to authenticated researchersA public knowledge base was created with details on all submarines and carriers referenced by the website. Links were made from the website to the knowledge base.5-2019 through 9-2019Knowledge base is live and available for public use.
Production InfrastructureApplications ran on a set of development servers with a local data store. All database tables were migrated to Amazon's cloud RDS. The web application was migrated to a Telco2 production web server. A Content Delivery Network was installed in front of the web server.8-2019 through 9-2019Production website is live at Prior URLs including redirect to this site.
Some project outputs deserve illustration and explanation, and are discussed below.
Island relationship visualisations are made from data drawn via API from the Observatory of Economic Complexity at Visualisations of imports and exports from the Solomon Islands are shown below, and clearly show that the Americas don't figure in the important economic relationships of the country, and Europe is represented only by Italy. To procure the best telecommunications products for its businesses, Solomon Islands telecoms providers should be looking to carriers with good connectivity to Asia, not Los Angeles.
A chart showing data related to export destinations and import destinations between 2010 and 2017.

Market size calculations allow the public to understand the competitiveness of Pacific telecommunications markets. Calculations on the site are produced daily, based on a 90 day rolling average of advertisements served on Google products by the research team at APNIC. While not perfect, the calculations are a reasonable approximation of commercial market share. The following two charts show an incumbent-dominated market in the Solomon Islands, followed by better balanced market in Guam.

A table showing ISP Market Share with three key companies.
A table showing ISP Market Share with six key companies.

Submarine fibre maps are a source of great confusion in the Pacific and around the world. Organisations like Telegeography and the ITU publish maps which include speculative cable projects and/or cables that have been retired from service. These maps are used by journalists, researchers, and government officials in articles, papers, and decision making processes that are negatively affected by poor quality information.

The current live version of the ITU's public submarine cable map shows a number of non-existent cables below, including a speculative cable from Perth to the Middle East, a cable from Perth to Singapore that's been cut and is not functional, a dedicated cable from Sydney to the Solomon Islands that doesn't exist, and multiple connections between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia where none exist.

A map of Australia and submarine cables, including non-existent cables.

Maps published on the Connected Pacific website have been made as accurate as possible, and only show international submarine cables that are in active use or build. Taking into account accurate information, a company in Papua New Guinea seeking interconnection with a company in Indonesia would know the only current routes are via Australia or Asia, and that performance is likely to be poor due to the lack of direct interconnection between the economies.

A map of Australia from the Connected Pacific website.

The project's accompanying knowledge base provides a vast amount of detail on many pieces of Pacific infrastructure, including commercial, regulatory, financial, technical, and environmental documents where available. It's designed in a manner that will allow future collaborators to expand existing entries and add new ones.

A screenshot from the Connected Pacific website showing a highlighted submarine cable in the Pacific.

Project Evaluation

This section of the paper evaluates the implementation of the project.

  • To what extent did the project achieved its objectives?
    • Most objectives have been achieved. A live website provides data on all Pacific island nations and their telecommunications environments.
    • Hundreds of background documents on the region's cable systems are available in one place for the first time.
    • Statistics from hosting provider CloudFlare show the site is used daily and has reached thousands of users.
  • What contribution to development did the project make?
    • Telecommunications providers throughout the Pacific are aware of the project, and the issues of poor interconnections.
    • The project and its blog posts are frequently mentioned in regional media and mailing lists.
    • Peering exchanges in Fiji, Guam, and Papua New Guinea encouraged by the project have been successfully established. 
  • Is there evidence of positive impact?
    • Fiji and PNG both have operational Internet Exchanges as of 2018, in part due to evidence-based lobbying encouraged by this project.
    • In Guam major operators are peering at a neutral exchange for the first time in part due to an intervention by this project.
  • To what extent the project delivered benefits/outcomes that support gender equality, diversity and inclusion?
    • Information is priviliged in Pacific society and often held tightly by those in power. There's no culture of sharing information, especially when it comes to financing details around large national and regional projects. This project amalgamates and opens up large amounts of telecommunications information to activists, researchers, governments, and competitive providers, and helps to level the playing field for those seeking change.
  • To what extent has the project lived to its potential for growth/further development?
    • Statistics from hosting provider CloudFlare show the project receives around 1,600 unique users per month.
    • The Pacific Community has offered a Memorandum of Understanding expressing their desire to continue and potentially host the project going forward.
  • To what extent do the proposed activities support the development of local technical capacity in a gender equality and inclusion framework?
    • If the project is managed by the Pacific Community in the future, all participants will benefit from their development and inclusion policies.
  • What were the most important findings and outputs of the project?
    • Good information on Pacific infrastructure and networks is scarce, and sharing such information openly is of value to the community.
  • What will be done with them?
    • Outputs of the project will be available indefinitely. With the cooperation of the Pacific Community, new outputs may continue to be developed.
  • To what extend the project help build up the capacity of your institution or of the individuals involved?
    • The project leader has learned new coding and GIS skills, and hopes to transfer much of this knowledge to future collaborators.
  • Were certain aspects of project design, management and implementation particularly important to the degree of success of the project?
    • The decision to use software-as-a-service platforms including Carto, Confluence, Amazon RDS, and CloudFlare have enabled a very small team to produce a very technically involved web resource with a relatively small budget.
IndicatorsBaselineProject activities related to indicatorOutputs and outcomesStatus
How do you measure project progress, linked to the your objectives and the information reported on the Implementation and Dissemination sections of this report.Refers to the initial situation when the projects haven’t started yet, and the results and effects are not visible over the beneficiary population.Refer to how the project has been advancing in achieving the indicator at the moment the report is presented. Please include dates.We understand change is part of implementing a project. It is very important to document the decision making process behind changes that affect project implementation in relation with the proposal that was originally approved.Indicate the dates when the activity was started. Is the activity ongoing or has been completed? If it has been completed add the completion dates.
Accessible Project Research & DataProject research data was only available via powerpoint presentations and technical grant reports.Project activities are discussed in detail in the implementation section.A functional, well publicised, and well used website is available for members of the community to interact with.Project begun 2016-11 and completed 2019-11

Gender Equality and Inclusion

Although this phase of the project had no specific goals for diversity, the intial project team listed in the website's credits, was gender and ethnically diverse. All team members learned more about the project topic and a host of cloud informatics platforms.

Project Communication Strategy

This project is essentially a communication strategy for a previous research project. The research and the Connected Pacific website have been promoted in several conference talks, on the APNIC blog, and on the PICISOC email list. The latter list is highly ethnically, gender, age, and socio-economically diverse. Participants include students, members of civil society, government officials, incumbent carriers, competitive carriers, and start-up ISPs – all potential beneficiaries of the work.

Through various communications, beneficiaries have contacted the project leader and has provided pro-bono assistance on matters relating to social media servers in Fiji, community networks in Vanuatu, satellite links in the Solomon islands and Niue, transit arrangements in Tonga, terrestrial fibre networks in Kiribati, and a peering exchange in Guam.

In addition to anecdotal data on contacts and projects, measurable data showing the reach and use of the site is available from its hosting provider CloudFlare. In the last month the project site had 1,716 unique visitors.

A char showing website visits between 16 October and 15 November.

Recommendations and Use of Findings

Amalgamating and sharing real-time data via the web is still the domain of specialized knowledge and bespoke programming. The project employed a number of ready-made open source components, including NodeJS, the Express framework, the Postgres SQL database, Carto's SQL-based GIS platform, and D3 for visualization of data, but these components still needed a great deal of configuration and coding to make them function. A fair amount of custom code was developed in Javascript and Python to tie data together behind the scenes. All of the code and modules also need semi-regular maintenance as libraries are updated or API addresses serving data move or change. The amount of technical work required to pull the site together was underbudgeted, and as a result less time was spent on regular maintenance, and external funding was required to meet travel obligations. 

For creation of and sharing of knowledge, Atlassian's Confluence tool was an excellent choice. For a token annual fee it allows multiple collaborators (up to ten) to work on a wiki rich media, access control, revision control, and an API. That API allows non-technical participants to produce content that's included by API in the dynamic site. For a research project involving only static or manually updated data, Confluence could be the only tool used.

The Pacific Community's nascent data hub project has been identified as a potential beneficiary of the project, and future keeper of the project's data. With the technical framework of the project ready, their deep connections into Pacific communities could help identify future participants in the project who might add information to the knowledge base, or integrate data from the project in their own work.


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