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The quest to keep Canada’s Internet traffic in-country

Keyboard (Rex)

Of all the things affected by the U.S. government shutdown, let’s hope the country’s infrastructure that helps keep the Internet up and running is among the essential services.

While Canadian businesses scramble to ensure that they suffer the least adverse effects from the public sector closure south of the border, they probably aren’t worried that web surfers here will experience any difficulties. But behind the scenes of your browser, the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA) is trying to ensure more of the online traffic that flows from here stays here.

Internet traffic needs to run through what are known as Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). We’ve had some here for a while, like TorIX in Toronto and YYCIX in Calgary. These organizations partner with various carriers to route traffic back and forth between websites and computers. A lot of the traffic, of course, goes across the U.S. border and far beyond. Last week CIRA announced the Manitoba Internet Exchange (MBIX) had launched, and is in discussions with possible partners in Vancouver.

According to Byron Holland, CIRA’s president and CEO, the addition of more Canadian IXPs will ensure that we all enjoy a robust, high-performing Internet experience without worrying that the U.S. is spying on our online activities via the NSA or the PRISM program. Or at least reduce those worries.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. “IXPs were never designed to prevent traffic from leaving a jurisdiction, but by design, it helps maintain more traffic in a jurisdiction. It will definitely mitigate routing through foreign entities.”

Traffic will only remain local, however, if Canadians avoid major U.S. online services like Dropbox or Facebook, which seems unlikely. CIRA realizes this, which is why the organization recently set up an open question on its “My Voice” forum which asks, “In your opinion, what else needs to be done? How can we ensure Canada has a robust Internet infrastructure that would protect Canadian citizens?”

Sadly, as of this writing this are only two responses. That’s probably because, like the Americans who were shocked that their ISPs were handing over personal information, Canadians aren’t up to speed with many of these issues.

“Even the average high-tech worker in the Internet space probably knows nothing about them, or only has peripheral knowledge,” Holland said, adding that the answer can’t be all Canadian traffic, all the time.

“The design of the (domain name system) was to be a distributed network -- that your bit or piece of data would find the fastest, most available path, whatever it may be. We don’t want to stop that. That’s part of the beauty of the Internet.”

Maybe so, but what’s ugly is when Internet users feel violated by government officials looking over their shoulders. CIRA is raising an important topic that deserves more feedback. Just because the U.S. government can’t brainstorm solutions to problems any more doesn’t mean we can’t.

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