“Blatant extortion and a cover-up”

ISPs have criticised SEACOM’s decision to stop its open peering policy, saying that it takes the industry back to days when Telkom and Internet Solutions refused to peer with service providers.

SEACOM recently reviewed its open peering policy and has decided to change to selective peering with immediate effect.

This change means that many South African Internet service providers (ISPs) which used to peer directly with SEACOM have been cut off.

These ISPs received the message, “SEACOM has identified your network as one of those which we will not be peering with”.

“The peering session with your network will be removed within 7 days from the date of this notice.”

Free and open peering

The free exchange of Internet traffic between service providers – known as free and open peering – has revolutionised broadband access in South Africa.

Free and open peering has helped to drive down broadband prices and played a big role in the growth of uncapped services in South Africa.

Cool Ideas co-founder Paul Butschi told MyBroadband that “from an industry that was completely selective to now almost completely open, the benefits are quite clear – lower price per Mbps”.

He added that SEACOM’s decision to move from open to selective peering is “naturally bad” for the industry.

Butschi’s views are echoed by Cybersmart founder and CTO Laurie Fialkov, who said SEACOM’s decision hurts both its own customers and other ISPs.

Why SEACOM moved away from open peering

Butschi said SEACOM told him that the decision to de-peer with Cool Ideas was for “commercial reasons”.

“We were told they had a paid-for service for SEACOM and SEACOM customer prefixes,” said Butschi.

Fialkov said SEACOM made the decision for the same reason that Telkom and Internet Solutions refused to peer years back – they want to charge for their content.

According to Fialkov, SEACOM runs the risk of frustrating their own customers who are paying for hosting and connectivity services.

Many of these customers will want their content to be delivered to end users in the quickest possible way, which will now not happen.

End-users from ISPs who were de-peered will also suffer, as they can now not access the content with the same low latency as they have become accustomed to.

Fialkov said SEACOM may hope that the customers of other ISPs, who have been de-peered, will now migrate to them to access the content on its network as efficiently as before.

Atomic Access MD Nicholas Soper added that SEACOM’s strategy may be to convince smaller ISPs to buy connectivity from them rather than to peer.

Blatant extortion of smaller players

Jyri Hamalainen, Interim CEO of Autonomous System and South Africa’s home grown video streaming platform provider Tysflo, told MyBroadband that SEACOM’s decision to de-peer was a complete surprise, especially in a pioneering peering exchange like NAPAfrica.

“SEACOM’s decision is probably a cover up of their own inability to service downstream customers properly,” said Hamalainen.

Hamalainen said Tysflo has respected SEACOM for the work it has done to bring connectivity to South Africa, and Tysflo peered with SEACOM to make video content more readily available in the country.

Hamalainen said he was, however, completely taken aback at SEACOM’s “unprofessional treatment of a peering partner – we expected more from them”.

“They forced us with a 10-day timeout to sign and pay or be kicked off. They gave us no time to even consider giving our current transit providers notice. They were much like bullies.” he said.

“It makes no sense to charge a fee to route traffic that already arrives on a shared local exchange. This is equivalent to blatant extortion,” he said.

“But from what we conclude, there is a clear strategy from SEACOM, which looks like forcing smaller players to comply, and double-dipping, while they try to solve their other business challenges.”

Hamalainen said his company is looking at taking the matter further through other avenues, as it “reeks of a privilege club, and goes to the core of affordable and fair internet access for South Africans and South African Internet businesses.”

SEACOM responds

SEACOM did not directly answer questions as to whether its decision takes South Africa back to the days of Telkom and IS who refused to peer with ISPs unless they paid.

Instead, the company said the decision to move from open to selective peering was based solely on its commitment to protecting the quality of its network.

SEACOM added that it maintains active peering with many networks, including ISPs, content delivery networks, and cloud service providers on a settlement-free basis.

Now read: SEACOM cuts off ISPs in new peering policy

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“Blatant extortion and a cover-up”