ISOC Fellows Attend IETF 73

By: Wendy Rickard

Date: February 7, 2009

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Group picture of Fellows
Internet Society Fellowship to the IETF fellows, mentors, and ISOC staff attend IETF 73 in Minneapolis.

Before IETF 73, Terry Rupeni had a relatively good understanding of the work being done by the IETF. What he couldn’t quite grasp was the work flow. After a few days, the mild-mannered engineer from Fiji was clearly in the flow, and he was becoming much more comfortable with the temperature, both inside and outside the hotel.

As a newcomer to the IETF, Terry’s trip to Minneapolis was made possible as part of the Internet Society (ISOC) Fellowship to the IETF programme. What did he think? “It’s a little cold,” he said of the city. The temperature inside was a different story. “It can get a little hot in there,” Terry said, referring to both the working-group meetings and the plenary sessions. “Here people go right up to the mic,” he said. “Where I come from, it’s not part of our culture to speak up in this manner. In Fiji, you don’t voice your opinion in public.”

Understanding the IETF from the inside out can be a cultural shock for many of the engineers who come from less-developed regions. IETF fellow Jean Philemon Kissangou, who serves as technical manager for an Internet service provider in the Republic of the Congo and as director on the Board of the regional Internet registry AfriNIC, imagined that IETF meetings were “a complicated thing.” Carlos Alberto Watson Carazon, who is from Costa Rica and who has attended LACNIC (Latin American and Caribbean Internet Addresses Registry) meetings, found the IETF experience uplifting. “The IETF respects opinions of people from other countries, and they respect other points of view,” he said.
As the ISOC fellowship programme moves into its fourth year, the infusion of diverse cultures into IETF meetings is being felt both by fellows and by the IETF.

The Challenges Back Home

Being better prepared to tackle the challenges of managing or expanding access to the Internet in rural, remote, or developing regions is what motivates many of the fellows to apply to the fellowship programme. In Fiji, where Terry works as a network analyst at the University of the South Pacific, the Internet is still in its nascent stages. A government monopoly that ended nearly a year ago has given rise to four ISPs instead of one. The result has been increased competition and lower prices.

Since the monopoly ended, Internet use has taken off in Fiji, mainly in the area of personal use, and Terry is quick to comment on the impact that that kind of use has had on the culture. People are learning to use Facebook, and e-mail is becoming the norm. And, as in most places, the mainstreaming of the Internet in Fiji has fundamentally changed how people in the country communicate.

The challenge for engineers like Terry lies in how to expand access beyond cities and towns to rural areas, where access is generally limited. Since power supplies can be problematic, efforts are being made to explore solar energy as a way of powering networks, and the new ISPs are beginning to invest in wireless technologies.

As a whole, when it comes to the Internet, Terry said that Fijians are interested and engaged. “There are not too many technological challenges,” he said. “We learn from developed countries. And more and more computers are coming from Malaysia.”

Fellow Jean Philemon Kissangou at IETF 73 in Minneapolis. Photo by Wendy Rickard

Philemon said that in the Congo, while access continues to be a problem in his country, the challenges he faces these days are IPv6 related. “Our network is only IPv4,” he said. “We need to adopt. I need to explain the benefits.” As in Fiji, it’s been difficult to fund and build an infrastructure that would connect the rural regions of the Congo. Access in those areas is made available mainly via satellite, though Philemon said the government is now dedicated to laying down fibre. And while the Internet in the cities is increasingly available at Internet cafés and at some private companies, in schools, teachers complain that they don’t have access. “Students would like to use the Internet, but they can’t,” Philemon said. “Even within the government Internet use is limited.”

In Carlos’s corner of the world, Internet penetration is at roughly 24 percent. The problem, he said, is that in Costa Rica there are only two ISPs, and the government runs both of them. “With a government-controlled ISP,” he said, “getting connected can take up to six months.” Getting connected through a cable company is easier but considerably more expensive. Even so, said Carlos, cost is not the main issue; the main issue is access. “Most folks can afford the Internet,” he said. “They just can’t easily get it.”

Carlos believes strongly in the benefits the Internet offers, particularly in the areas of education, health care, and business development. He said he would like the government to do more to improve and expand access. “They should get behind open source,” which, he said, is not just more affordable but higher quality.

The Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu is composed of four reef islands and five atolls. It is there that IETF 73 fellow Tenanoia Veronica Simona serves as an IT manager at the Tuvalu Telecommunication Corporation (TTC), one of two ISPs in the region (the other one is operated by the government). Currently, the Internet is available only on the main island of Funafuti, which is the capital of Tuvalu. According to Tenanoia, TTC provides WiFi connections primarily for government entities that are located outside the government building but also to some nongovernmental organizations. “As of last month” she wrote, “we have also started to provide ADSL connections to people at home.” Next they are targeting schools in general, but primary schools in particular. One of two secondary schools is currently accessing the Internet from Vaitupu, one of the outer islands.

According to Tenanoia, the majority of the population isn’t able to access the Internet yet, but she is hopeful that that will soon change. The challenge they face is their capacity to roll out the Internet to the outer islands, of which there are eight and all of which are separated by the Pacific Ocean. TTC is meeting that challenge by preparing to build a system that will prove capable enough to expand Internet access to the majority of the population in the outer islands. “We at TTC are trying to secure funds for this purpose,” she wrote. “It is our priority.”

Tenanoia said the Internet is an important enabler in her part of the world. She said it can cut the cost of telephone communications, and it allows students to conduct research more quickly and efficiently than they can now. And, like the other fellows, she said access to the Internet is critical to adequate health care. “Our medical personnel are now able to conduct research online for solutions from the main hospital in Tuvalu,” she wrote.

Impressions from a Returning Fellow

“I was like an alien in Philadelphia,” Mohibul Hasib Mahmud said in between meetings at IETF 73. In Minneapolis, the IETF fellow from Bangladesh hit the ground running.

Mohibul said the Internet is growing in his country, albeit slowly. He described it as an evolution in terms of technology development. Since 2006, though, it has been a revolution. That’s when fibre was laid and Bangladesh was no longer dependent on satellite. Since then, usage has grown exponentially, in terms of both business and personal use.

Working with an ISP is always challenging, said Mohibul. As a technologist, he must constantly grow with the infrastructure. Over the past year or two, subscriptions have increased, and there is a growing need for more IP addresses, so they work with the regional Internet registries. They also work hard to create services that would meet clients’ needs, especially now that there are at least a couple of hundred ISPs in his country.

According to Mohibul, regardless of the advances, penetration in his country is still too low and there’s not much in the way of a telecom infrastructure. Internet access is available mainly in the cities, but even there, he said, there are problems, including a lack of computers. “Without computers,” he said, “there isn’t much of a way to take advantage of the Internet.”

Even with the challenges, Mohibul is pleased with the impact the Internet has had on communications in his country. “Lots of people go overseas for jobs,” he said. “Often, they are out of touch with family and friends for a long time. Telephoning is expensive. With the Internet, they are able to stay in touch.”

IETF 73 Fellows and Mentors

Jean Philemon Kissangou (Congo)
Mentor: Alain Aina

Carlos Watson Carazo (Costa Rica)
Mentor: Roque Gagliano

Tenanoia Veronica Simona (Tuvalu)
Mentor: Fred Baker

Terry Rupeni (Fiji)
Mentor: David Farmer

IETF 73 Returning Fellows

Burmaa Baasansuren (Mongolia)
Mohibul Hasib Mahmud (Banglasdesh)
Veaceslav Sidorenco (Moldova)