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The ISP Reseller Dilemma

It’s fairly obvious that the Iraqi ISP space relies on resellers by now. For the unacquainted, the Internet in Iraq is a glorious mess. A cautionary tale about corruption and mismanagement with the last link on the chain being the reseller. It is true that the reseller is the actual backbone of the Internet here. However, it’s no way to go about doing things. The barrier of entry is extremely low. Any average Joe down the road can hook himself up with a tower, some few basestations and become a reseller. There is no certification you must pass and there’s certainly no qualifications needed from the ISP. Sounds dangerous, right?

You’d be correct, unfortunately. And you can see evidence of this by the horrendous networking infrastructure & architecture that connects this country. Screw it, I might as well say that the government set up routers on the borders and all ISPs entering in and out of the country have to pass through those routers. Even more fun is that they charge outrageous prices like $60 per Mbit! You say it’s for national security, but I say look at the 14 eyes countries. They have the most powerful surveillance programs in the world while letting ISPs go in and out of the country without government interjection. They use passive tapping but apparently we’re too poor for that. (Not really, the government just wants to make more $$$ and if you don’t pass through their routers you risk jail time and a heavy fine). Anyways, I digress.

Back to resellers. We all know what happened in 2003 and I don’t need to explain. After the US and friends decided to pull a prank on Iraq a lot of public infrastructure was destroyed as a result. The Internet was still in its infancy in 2003 so there wasn’t any to begin with anyways. 2007 was when the Internet really started taking shape with multiple domestic ISPs being formed. However there was 1 problem… There was no infrastructure and it isn’t easy making one specially in the mid to late 2000s where an IED was the alarm clock of people. So ISPs thought of a genius (not really) idea! Why not let random people set up the necessary infrastructure, hook them up with their services and let them reseller subscriptions? The reseller takes a small cut while the rest goes to the ISP.

This was great! New job opportunities for our youth while also expanding connectivity across the country… That’s what a snake oil merchant or a politican who wants to fuel his ego would say. More and more resellers started getting their own towers and hooking up homes with Internet. It was good at first, but what if I told you that on average, a reseller knows less about networking than a script kiddie who bought a botnet from Mommy’s credit card and now thinks he’s a hacker? This is not a joke, and this is not an exaggeration. Now unfortunately I have no real hard references to give here so all I have is… Look at the state of the Internet. Go outside, talk to them. You’ll quickly find out.

So now the majority of end users get their Internet from the reseller. The reseller is the first hop and the connection between the home user and the ISP. Fortunately it isn’t all doom and gloom. Resellers respond to disaster and troubles faster than ISPs. If your home network dies because you were too stupid to figure out where the WAN port is then a reseller can come to the rescue. The reseller is also closer to the final customer.

But this begs the question, are they to be trusted? Sure, they are sort of beneficial to the end user and to the company. Since the company can use the reseller as a shield and the end user can get faster support and disaster recovery. However, the barrier of entry is low. And as I stated earlier this is extremely bad since unoptimised networks became the norm. The new minister which looks like she just came out of a funeral is battling resellers and at a fast pace. And with the surge of the government’s FTTH project ISPs also started to battle resellers. But this isn’t the correct way of going on about things.

Thus bringing us to the dilemma… Do we abolish resellers, make tens of thousands of people unemployed and also destroy the current backbone of Iraq’s Internet for better connectivity in the long run? Or do we keep them & continue living with subpar connectivity while the FTTH project continues to operate normally? (The latter option won’t see any mass adoption of the FTTH project since people are already ok with reseller Internet.) That’s up to you.