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Infrastructure and Community Development 4 May 2021

How Has COVID-19 Impacted Regional Internet Ecosystems?

Israel Nyoh
By Israel NyohCommunications and Outreach Manager - Africa

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and work are still online while the pressure on Internet ecosystems remains unprecedented. This has put the question of Internet resilience to the fore. As networks continue to struggle to cope with traffic spikes and connectivity hiccups, we examine how COVID-19 impacted some regional Internet ecosystems in 2020.

Africa

As discussions from the fourth session of the Virtual Peering Series – Africa show, African Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) experienced lows and peaks during the pandemic. First there was a dip in traffic as governments imposed lockdowns in the early 2020, then a gradual rise thereafter.

Another challenge the continent faced was cable cuts on the South Atlantic 3/West Africa Submarine Cable system, which led to service degradation or complete outages in parts of Western and Southern Africa in January and April 2020. Discussed by the African Peering and Interconnection Community during the fifth session of the Virtual Peering Series – Africa, experts recommended educating regulators and policymakers on the importance of cross border interconnectivity and investing in Internet infrastructure to help the continent build a more robust and resilient Internet.

Learn more about Virtual Peering Series – Africa!

Asia

In Asia, a spike in traffic led to a decline in Internet speeds. However, the Internet remained resilient and stable as operators and technical communities adapted to the new reality.

In the study COVID-19 Impact on Internet Performance: Case Study of Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, we illustrate how the Internet infrastructure performed during the pandemic in South Asia. With experiences drawn from users, Internet service providers, Internet exchange points, data centers, and policy and regulatory bodies in Afghanistan, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, the study discusses the Internet performance and building blocks.

The report also highlights important short- and medium-term measures that can be adopted to strengthen Internet resilience and performance in these countries.

This was also confirmed by another survey the Asia-Pacific Internet Exchange Association and the Internet Society conducted to understand the impact of COVID-19 on IXP operations in the region: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Internet Performance in Afghanistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Data from Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, and Australia showed that Internet exchange traffic increased between 7-40% in at the region’s exchange points. On the operations side, the technical teams struggled to manage and upgrade IXP equipment immediately as lockdowns were enforced. They quickly adapted and found solutions that enabled them to keep their IXPs functioning.

Middle East and North Africa

In the Middle East and North Africa, just like in other regions, COVID-19 increased reliance on the Internet. As seen in the report Impact of COVID-19 on the Internet Ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa, increased traffic forced regulators to release more spectrum to operators while streaming services reduced video definition and operators increased data caps. The report also shows governments are making great strides towards improving the digital experience in the Middle East and North Africa. But they can do more.

Besides boosting competition for international and national capacity, providing more spectrum to operators, and developing regulations to promote more local content hosting, the report call on governments to:

  1. Remove restrictions on access to local IXPs to maximize local traffic exchange 
  2. Increase use of digital payments to promote the digital economy
  3. Develop national broadband plans
Learn more about Internet exchange points (IXPs), which are vital to bringing faster and more affordable Internet to people.

Image by Erik Mclean via Unsplash

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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