Internet Regulators, Technologists Seek Ongoing Dialogue

By: Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Date: July 6, 2016

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The Internet Society should continue to foster dialogue between Internet policymakers and IETF technologists with the goal of creating a more open and secure Internet. That was the consensus of an Internet Society-sponsored panel discussion held in Buenos Aires during IETF 95 entitled, Public Policy and Internet Technology Development.

Moderated by Olaf Kolkman, the Internet Society’s chief Internet technology officer, the panel featured policymakers from Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Fiji, along with long-time IETF members familiar with regulatory issues.

Dilawar Grewal, vice president of the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, said IETF engineers working on the building blocks of the Internet don’t always think about how policymakers will interpret the technology that they are developing.

“A direction from the policy perspective to the technology makers and from the technology makers to the policymakers would be something that could actually change our environment quite dramatically in the future,” Grewal said. “That’s the kind of bridge that I think we ought to build between what the IETF does and what policymakers do. Right now, there is no connection.”

Nelson Guillén, a regulator with the Dominican Republic’s INDOTEL, said policymakers are interested in the IETF’s work “to make a better and open and stable Internet.” Of specific interest are the IETF’s work on cybersecurity and quality of service, he added. “We don’t have certain information to defend the user’s rights to receive the quality level that they have contracted with the company to receive, so Internet service measurements and how to measure them and what’s the best tool” are of interest, Guillén said.

Raúl Lazcano, head of the regulatory division of Chile’s SUBTEL, said regulatory agencies like his don’t have technical professionals on staff who understand the inner workings of IETF standards.

“The IETF rules are deeply technical, and we have a lack of professionals with the technical proficiency to analyze these rules,” Lazcano said. “The question for the community is: How can you help us be nearer to the IETF, to analyze and to participate more in the technology development?”

Tim Polk, assistant director for cybersecurity at the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, said his agency favors multistakeholder organizations like the IETF for standards development.

“We believe that US companies and others will do better if the cybersecurity standards they use are internationally accepted,” Polk said. “From a technologist point of view, I always see the IETF position is to deliver the best technical standards to support the broadest range of policy options. Not all policies in all countries are going to be the same.”

However, Polk pointed out that the IETF’s cybersecurity standards haven’t been created in such a way that people are motivated to implement them. “We have the standards out there that we know if everyone implemented them, the Internet would be a better place. The challenge I see in the policy space is how to motivate adoption,” he said.

Cisco Fellow Fred Baker said that often the conversation between Internet technologists and regulators breaks down because they each have distinctive expertise. “Often times, when I’m talking with policy regulators, I’m dealing with misconceptions and baggage and trying to help them understand the world in which they are living so they can make better regulatory decisions,” he said.

Polk agreed, noting that an important role for the IETF community is to educate policymakers on what is and isn’t possible with the Internet. “Often regulators have a completely different idea of what the Internet is and how it works… It isn’t that they aren’t well intentioned, but they don’t understand how it all works,” he said. “They have a responsibility to get educated to reflect the real state of the Internet, and we have a responsibility to help them understand what can and cannot be done.”

As a rule of thumb, Grewal encouraged IETF engineers to design open standards to ensure that the Internet brings economic development opportunities to all, not just to some. “When technical people focus more on interoperability in standards, they open up a whole lot of doors for policymakers and for the users,” he said.

Polk added that another benefit of open standards is that they foster innovation. “If standards are done poorly, they can become an inhibiting factor,” he added.

Guillen said it’s important to foster interaction between Internet technologists and policymakers because they both want a better Internet for all, and IETF meetings are a great place for these conversations.

“It’s good that we know the process of [standards] creation that the IETF uses. That might help us make better regulations,” he said. “We should also regulate, but trying to keep things as open as possible in order to let people keep developing and designing new opportunities to use the technology.”

Lazcano agreed that it is important for the IETF and policymakers to keep working to bridge the gap between technical issues and political rules through continuous dialogue. “If I have the advisory of a good technical community, I can do rules in the correct way. So these kind of meetings are very important for me,” he said.