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National Internet Exchange of India starts allowing content providers to peer

We missed this earlier: The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) is now open to peering with content providers like Google, Amazon Web Services, Akamai and Netflix (h/t Gurshabad Grover), the exchange announced last October. This is significant, since NIXI, which was set up by the government in 2003, has so far only allowed ISPs to peer with each other through it, and did not permit content providers to peer directly with NIXI.

Not permitting content providers is highly unusual for an internet exchange — in 2012, Anurag Bhatia pointed out how NIXI had total traffic of around 20Gbps while European exchanges were already transporting terabits per second since they had relationships with content providers (and more specifically, content delivery networks, or CDNs). NIXI currently has daily traffic of around 160Gbps.

Too late?

NIXI may have come out with these policy changes too late. Content providers, while locked out of NIXI, had to find a way to reach internet users, without having to directly negotiate peering arrangements with individual telcos. In the last decade, private internet exchanges like Extreme-IX and DE-CIX have rapidly taken over, letting content providers bypass NIXI by connecting them to ISPs with competitive pricing.

NIXI’s total traffic in India today is a fraction of what these new exchanges support every day. DE-CIX and Extreme-IX each have over four times more daily traffic than NIXI, enabling 700Gbps of data to flow each day. After the COVID-19 shutdown in India started, private exchanges shouldered a tremendous portion of the increase in data being sent through the Internet in India, while NIXI’s traffic only showed a minor uptick.

In another relaxation of norms last March, NIXI rolled back its “x minus y rule”. Under that rule, telcos paid for downloaded data minus uploaded data, as opposed to just renting bandwidth. So if Airtel users downloaded 45GB and upload 5GB, the telco would have to pay NIXI for 40GB. The per-GB fee was ₹17.50 in 2011, and was gradually reduced to one rupee in 2016, before being done away with entirely last March. (Now that telcos no longer have to pay fees based on download volume, it makes sense that the ISP-only rule has been lifted at NIXI — ISPs no longer have to pay a steep bill for the high volumes of data coming from, say, an Akamai, AWS, or Netflix.)

Over five months after NIXI opened the door to content providers, there has been little interest. A NIXI employee told MediaNama that only two CDNs have shown interest — Zenlayer and Akamai. Of these, only Zenlayer has submitted an application. That application isn’t moving forward for the moment as it was sent physically, and NIXI employees are working from home following the COVID19 lockdown.

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