Midwest Internet Cooperative Exchange forms to speed up local Internet traffic

by Mike Bollinger

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The Midwest Internet Cooperative Exchange (MICE) has recently formed to establish an Internet peering point in downtown Minneapolis.

The small bundle of routers, servers, and switches are located in the 511 building to create what is called an Internet exchange point (IXP). Using an IXP, Internet service providers exchange traffic between their networks, effectively creating shortcuts between their services. These shortcuts reduce the portion of a service provider’s traffic that must be delivered via their upstream transit providers, thereby reducing costs of delivery, improving efficiency of routing, and increasing fault-tolerance.

The initiative in Minnesota is spearheaded by Steve Howard of Paul Bunyan Telephone and Jay Hanke of Mankato Networks, seeded by casual conversation around one simple idea: ‘it’s pretty ridiculous that all traffic flowing between two local Minnesota service providers has to route through Chicago’. A LinkedIn group was initially created to discuss the issue, and three months later, MICE was launched.

“There are a few data centers in Minneapolis that carriers operate out of,” explains James Montz, one of the group’s founding leaders.  “The problem is that very few of them talk to one another. If you’re Carrier A and you’re trying to talk to Carrier B, traffic flows upstream to Minneapolis, then to Chicago, and then back down, increasing latency and slowing down along the way.” MICE was started to avoid of those hops, remove the latency and routing changes, and subsequently increase availability and speed — while at the same time reducing costs for participants.

There are already quite a few major midwest service providers already participating: ipHouse, TDS (which owns VISI), Enventis (Hickory Tech), CDW/Berbee, Hurricane Electric, South Dakota Networks, Northern Lights GigaPoP, US Cable, and the University of Minnesota.

The organization itself is an LLC, but its loose knit structure and management rely on donations of both time and hardware. “Our vision is to be completely non-profit,” said James.  “Our only costs are hardware, and we’ve relied on donations for that. Because we don’t actually connect to the Internet directly, we don’t have to pay anyone for bandwidth.”

Although MICE may charge for ports in the future, the first port connection is currently free.

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