Commercial Internet eXchange

Commercial Internet eXchange

The Commercial Internet Exchange ("CIX") was the initial effort for creating the commercial Internet that we know today. Its goal was to have an independent interconnection point with no US Government-defined "acceptable use policy" on the traffic that could flow; just as critical, was the "no-settlement" policy that was to exist between the parties. This no-settlement policy which has been an assumed "given" throughout the modern era of the Internet was immensely controversial at this point in time.


The first meetings were held in Reston, Virginia, and the original signatories were PSINet, UUNET and CERFnet. The hardware - a Cisco 7500 router that had been the workhorse for most of the CIX's operational life (though not at its inception), together with papers and notes from the founding meetings (donated by Bill Schrader of PSINET) were acquired by the National Museum of American History in November 2005.


Up until that moment the Internet had been dominated by the US Government agencies such as ARPA/DARPA through the Arpanet, the Defense Communications Agency (DCA) through the MILNET, the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the NSFNet, and the NSF sponsored US and Canadian "Regional Networks", as well as a handful of national networks sponsored by various national entities and the NSF. The focus of this group was either Military/Government communications or Research Communications, especially about the separately funded NSF SuperComputer initiatives brought on by Nobel laureate Ken Wilson's testimony to Congress in the 1980s.

The NSF chose a vendor and a model on its own initiative to do commercialization using the same infrastructure as the NSFNet called ANS (Advanced Network Services) led by IBM Yorktown Heights. While the conflict was apparent to some it was not to the NSF. More importantly the NSF and ANS had a settlement model which they believed would provide for an Internet for themselves and commercial entities, this settlement model was based on how many bytes of data were sent to you. This model had great advantages to those who provided servers in the center of the Internet which of course was the situation that the NSFNet and ANS happened to be in.

This "great debate" was had in very select forums amongst very select parties until the establishment of the "com-priv" public mailing list at PSInet (specifically On this list the concept of the CIX was disclosed and debated.

The Great "Compromise"

With the CIX gaining more and more commercial ISPs quarter by quarter and then month by month, and with the NSFNet/ANSNet building traffic based on its University usage, a "compromise" was needed. At that point Mitch Kapor took over the chairmanship from Marty Schoffstall and forged an agreement with ANS to connect to the CIX as a "trial" by which they could leave with a moment's notice.

The CIX established the business model for the settlement-free exchange of Internet traffic between Network Service Providers. From an engineering perspective that was an important precursor to the Internet interconnection architecture that followed such as the Metropolitan Area Ethernet(MAE) and the NSF sponsored Network Access Points (NAPs) that were established for the transition of the NSFNET traffic to competing service providers that included Sprint, ANS, and MCI. However, the CIX was by 1995 essentially superseded by events both commercial and technical, though the CIX router continued to operate until 2001 when the UUNET peering session was turned down. .

Trade Association

As the role of CIX as an interexchange point diminished, it took on the role of an ISP trade association. CIX frequently lobbied the US Government and the Federal Communications Commission. CIX's executive director was Barbara Dooley. CIX's lobbying efforts reflected the positions of its largest financial supporter, AT&T, regularly opposing the positions of the incumbent local bell operating company monopolies. CIX also appeared in other forums such as the FTC and ICANN. AT&T also supported a CIX spin off effort, the US ISP Association (USISPA) which was led by Sue Ashdown. Unlike other trade associations, CIX did not host a trade show but instead appeared and solicited support at conferences like ISPCON.

AT&T the long distance company came under financial strain during the dot-com bust prior to being acquired by SBC, and its support for CIX diminished. In 2002, CIX was reorganized and took on the name of its spin off organization, the USISPA. While AT&T continues to support USIPSA, AT&T is now owned by SBC. USISPA no longer takes policy stances at the FCC in opposition to SBC or other bell operating companies.


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