Neutrality

Whether commercial or not, virtually all European IXPs are owned and managed neutrally with respect to carriers, ISPs and co-location providers. These three types of organisations can all have commercial relationships with the IXP, or with the IXP customers, and therefore if the ownership of the IXP is in their hands potential conflicts of interest may arise. An example that is often quoted is a group of IXPs in the US, which are owned and run by a carrier. The only circuits that may be used to gain access to the IXPs must be purchased from that carrier, thus producing a monopoly situation. This is particularly annoying to other carriers that have ISP companies, and wish to join the IXPs - they are effectively forced to give business and revenue to a competitor. Many ISPs have expressed strong feelings about the importance of neutrality of IXPs, and most of the larger European IXPs have said that their success has been partly as a result of their neutrality.

A feature of many; if not all, IXPs in Europe is that they prohibit themselves from carrying out any activity that may compete with member/customer business activities. If an IXP was to compete with members/customers it could lose their support, or even be a target for take-over. Neither situation is compatible with the aims of most IXPs. Definition of non-competition is, however, can be a grey area. For example, an IXP with multiple sites, between which member/customer traffic is exchanged as part of the service provided by the IXP, could be said to be in competition with carriers and ISPs by providing commercial connectivity between those sites. In practise this does not appear to have caused any issues to date, but consideration should be given to these matters as an IXP grows.

However, some of the existing European IXPs started as a co-operative between ISPs who are clearly not neutral, (it is, after all, largely for the benefit of ISPs that an IXP exists, although assistance from other organisations including institutions, carriers and co-location companies is not uncommon). There are other benefactors as well, in the case of IXPs started within research and academic institutions the institutions themselves benefit from better connectivity, and may also enjoy free or low cost transit. Carriers and co-location companies also benefit as a spin off; carriers can gain contracts for circuits from IXP member ISP POPs to the IXP and co-location companies housing an IXP will usually see a demand for rack space by ISPs wishing to be in the same building as the IXP. So how can an IXP be neutral? The important point is that the ownership and management should remain neutral.