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Internet Measurement for Regulators


Research and Innovation unit was invited to present a talk on Internet measurement to AfriNIC Government Working Group (AFGWG) on 17/06/19 in the recently held Africa Internet Summit 2019 in Kampala, Uganda. The 20-minute talk introduced the participants to aspects of Internet measurement that should be of concern to them. As a number of non-technical people were attending, the talk was presented in as layman terms as the subject could allow. Consequently, the presentation had four simple agenda items as follows: Internet Measurement – What is?, The Need for Measurement, Measurement Tools, and Recommendations.
Internet measurement is simply the use of tools to ascertain the accessibility, performance, and usage of the Internet. By accessibility, we want to know how far our Wi-Fi or cellular signal could reach; by performance, we want to know the speed of the Internet, the time it takes for a page to load on a browser, etc; by usage, we want to know the number of users on our country’s networks, the amount of data being transmitted over the different communication media – fibre-optics, wireless, etc – among other usage statistics. As AfriNIC’s Africa Internet Measurement Programme is mostly concerned with Internet performance in the region, the focus of the talk was based on the performance aspect.
Internet measurement data is crucial for evidence-based policy-making and regulation in a country as the government could easily make an informed decision based on the measured Internet statistics. A regulator could know if a certain Internet service provider (ISP) is fulfilling the service level agreement (SLA) entered into with a customer. For instance, if a provider promised a speed of 3mbps download, by performing regular measurements on the provider's network, the regulator could tell if such bandwidth is provided to the customer and the regulator could use that as evidence to sanction erring telecom operators/ISPs. The regulator could also use the measurement data it gathers over a period to publish Internet health report of a country and provide open, provider-independent data for researchers, civil society organisations, the general public, and other interested parties.
A number of open (‘free’ to use) and proprietary tools were cited in the presentation which could be utilised for the measurement purpose. Measurement Lab (M-LAB) is an open speed-test-related Internet measurement tool. RIPEstat and RIPE atlas are also free to use –although a credit system exists for the latter – and allow the visualisation of BGP routing information, latency measurement, HTTP-based measurement, etc. AFRINIC WHOIS database was also introduced as a database of all AFRINIC-allocated IP and autonomous system numbers in Africa. SamKnows and Speedchecker provide fee-based service of customised measurement platforms to enable governments to understand the performance of the Internet in their countries.
Of the many recommendations given at the end of the talk was the need for regulators to make Internet measurement as a core of their businesses. That a regulator relying on third parties for Internet data of its country is already bad enough, relying on operators and ISPs it is regulating to provide this data is worse. In addition to reliance on existing tools, regulators were also advised to consider developing their measurement tools in-house as some measurement needs could be peculiar to a country or a region, such as Africa, and existing tools may not always serve. That the regulators should publish regular reports of Internet health of their countries as seen by users and not from the operators’ and ISPs’ perspectives. Utilising the 10-year longitudinal M-LAB measurement data hosted on Google big query is one way of getting users’ experienced-performance.
Regulators were finally advised to stop the use of the phrase ‘Up To’ by ISPs to denote Internet speed in SLAs between customers and the providers. Rather, operators/ISPs should be forced to use a language clearly stating what they will provide. A defined expected-Internet-speed will stop the Internet providers from hiding behind the ambiguity of ‘Up To’ to deliver less-than agreed service level to their customers.
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