Internet Society Programme Builds Bridge Between IETF and Regulators

By: Carolyn Duffy Marsan

Date: March 1, 2014

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At IETF 88, as part of an ongoing effort to foster better understanding between the Internet’s technical and regulatory communities, the Internet Society (ISOC) hosted ten policymakers from South America, Africa, and Asia.

The Internet Society Policymakers Programme to the IETF facilitates exchange between government policymakers and IETF leaders by providing visiting policymakers with an overview of how the IETF works and key issues affecting the Internet’s continued growth. Via this programme since 2012, ISOC has hosted more than 50 individuals from 40 governments to attend IETF meetings.

“The goal is to offer a bridge between the IETF community and the policy realm and to help demystify the IETF,” said Sally Wentworth, senior director of Strategic Public Policy for the Internet Society. “The response from policymakers has been overwhelmingly positive, and the IETF community’s welcome to policymakers has been tremendous. We are going into a very important period for Internet governance, and more focused engagement like this is needed.”

All of the policymakers who attended IETF 88 work for government agencies that oversee the telecommunications and/or ICT sectors in countries including Brazil, Kenya, and Vietnam. At IETF 88, these policymakers were given presentations about the IETF, including its mission and how it develops open standards through an ethos of rough consensus and running code. Leaders from across the IETF community explained working groups and leadership committees and how documents such as Request for Comments (RFCs) and best current practices (BCPs) are produced.

Experts from the IETF community gave policymakers an overview of the big-picture challenges that the Internet faces, including mobility, bandwidth constraints and the emergence of new applications. This programme is also an opportunity for the IETF community to listen and learn about the priorities of policymakers.

“Our policy guests saw that the IETF is focused on its technical role and work, but felt that the community also handled the policy-related issues well and appropriately,” Wentworth said. “The IETF’s passion and enthusiasm for the Internet model and open debate was evident and inspiring to the policymakers. They were impressed that anyone who comes to an IETF meeting is allowed to participate and be heard.”

The government representatives heard a series of presentations from IETF leaders on critical aspects of the Internet:

  • Fred Baker, Cisco Fellow and former IETF chair, gave presentations about border gateway protocol (BGP) routing and the history of the Internet.
  • Mark Kosters, chief technology officer of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, provided a deep dive into Internet protocol (IP) addressing, with an explanation of the differences between IPv4 and IPv6.
  • Former Internet Architecture Board Chair Olaf Kolkman, director of NLnet Labs, gave a talk about the domain name system (DNS) and the need to secure it with DNS security extensions.
  • Geoff Huston, chief scientist at Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre, spoke about the concept of quality of service in the Internet in comparison to predecessor voice-only networks.
  • Alvaro Retana, a Cisco distinguished engineer, spoke about the impact of the IETF on Internet development, including the group’s new efforts to harden the Internet against pervasive monitoring attacks and to improve the diversity of its membership.
  • Milton Kaoru Kashiwakura, director of the Brazilian NIC, gave a talk about regional interconnection from Latin America.

They also attended the Internet Governance Update (igovupdate) Birds of a Feather session, which all of the policymakers noted was a highlight of the week. This session was sponsored by the Internet Architecture Board to discuss IANA matters.

“Policymakers gained a greater understanding of how the Internet and Internet standards work, something that had never been explained to them in such depth before,” Wentworth said. “Giving policymakers a chance to attend the IETF helps build trust among organizations, and this trust is key for the future of the Internet.”

The Internet Society will provide a similar set of presentations for a new group of policymakers at IETF 89 in London that include senior policy leaders from Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

“Past participants of the ISOC’s IETF Policy Programme want to get more experts from their countries involved in the IETF,” Wentworth said, noting that it is always difficult to get academic and industry participation in standards work because it is a voluntary effort. “This programme is helping build awareness of the IETF in developing countries, which is needed.”