Reflections on the IETF 94 Public Policy Programme

By: Rinalia Abdul Rahim

Date: April 17, 2016

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IETF 94 in Yokohama was my first IETF meeting. While subscribing to specific Working Group lists offers exposure to the IETF’s work, to obtain a true overview of how the organization works you must attend one of its meetings. The Yokohama meeting was my first such opportunity.

Quite a few people were curious about why I was there. As a relatively new Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Board Member, I felt it was important to have a better understanding of the IETF, a key client of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions. I sought a better sense of the scope of the IETF’s work, its priorities, community, and norms. The meeting in Japan was opportune in terms of timing and location.

Once at the meeting, I joined the Internet Society Public Policy Programme, for which I am extremely grateful. This programme provided crucial introduction and context for nontechnical participants who focus on policy matters. The Policy Fellows who convened in Yokohama came from Australia, Bhutan, Fiji, Japan, Kenya, Philippines, and Vanuatu. My participation brought Malaysia into the mix. It was a small group, designed for high interaction under the skilled guidance of Sally Went-worth, vice president of Global Policy Development.

Policy Fellows were introduced to both ISOC and IETF members and projects. Briefings covered topics such as IP addressing, DNS, IANA, routing, encryption, IXPs, interconnection, CSIRTs, as well as key programmes like Deploy360. IETF 94 hot topics were highlighted for our attention. I found the prominence of YANG modeling puzzling, but the rest of the hot topics fell within the range of my expectations. I was pleased to see the IETF continue its work on hardening the Internet and address issues of trust, identity, and privacy, while enhancing infrastructure resilience and security. New areas of work based on recent Birds of a Feather meetings (BoFs) also were flagged, including ISS, HOPSRG, NMLRG, HRPC, and T2TRG. 

Policy Fellows had structured opportunities to interact with a select group of Working Group chairs and subject matter experts. Chairs of the IETF and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) also popped by and discussions were lively and interesting. How the IETF deals with conflicts of interest, how it collaborates with other standards development bodies, and what progress has been achieved in enhancing the diversity of IETF participation were topics of interest to we Policy Fellows. 

The IETF meeting schedule was woven into the Policy programme. Time slots were allocated for Policy Fellows to attend Working Group sessions. Before I arrived in Yokohama, I drew up a schedule of sessions I wanted to attend based on personal interest and suggestions from friends who are veterans of the IETF. The Policy programme made the following addi-tional schedule-enhancing suggestions: RMCAT, NETVC, DPRIVE, V6OPS, ISS, HRPC, MODERN, IRTFOPEN and SIDR. Among the Working Group sessions that I attended, DNSOP distinguished itself in being the one with the most number of consensus-seeking hums. 

The Policy Fellows were asked how we found the Working Group sessions. To my mind, the Policy Fellows were equally fascinated and frustrated by what they encountered. Without a technical background, it was extremely hard to under-stand the substance of Working Group discussions and to pinpoint the policy implications. The primary barrier was the technical vernacular. It did not matter how much one prepared ahead of time or how much material was read or whether one had followed the work in other spaces. 

For us, the value of attending an IETF Working Group session was primarily in observing the interaction, dynamics, and norms. Understanding the policy implications and interacting effectively on those points require a dedicated forum where policy specialists can engage with technical people who can bridge the technical/policy language barrier. The Public Policy Programme was invaluable precisely for this reason: It provided a structured introduction to the IETF and its work, and it framed that introduction through a specialized lens for a policy audience. The programme could add further value by extending itself to provide a policy engagement platform on topics of interest beyond the meeting.

At the start of the meeting, it was impressed upon the Policy Fellows that at the IETF no one is in charge, anyone can contribute, and that everyone can benefit in the effort to make the Internet work better. I came away from the meeting thinking that there is truth to this, but to engage and contribute meaningfully there is a certain level of technical knowledge and language that is required. I also came away from the meeting with a deeper appreciation for the IETF and what it does. The breadth and depth of its work is challenging to absorb in one go, but it was clear that the work is essential to improving the Internet.

I took a bit of time in Yokohama to observe the IANA Team at work during the IETF meeting and to listen to feedback about them. It was evident to me that the IANA service and team were highly regarded and appreciated by the IETF community. 

Overall, I had a great time at IETF 94. I found the meeting intellectually stimulating and I enjoyed interacting with the IETF community. People were wonderfully warm, welcoming, and helpful. The out-of-meeting activities were equally memorable: the coffee runs, the musical event at Minato Mirai Hall, and the meals with IETF friends. And who could forget the Cosmo Clock 21, the gigantic Yokohama Ferris wheel that added color to the night?