Internet Society celebrates 20 years of standards, advocacy

Nonprofit group to induct pioneers, innovators to 'Internet Hall of Fame'

The Internet Society, which oversees operation of the .org registry and sponsors standards development work, is celebrating its 20th anniversary with a gala event in Geneva next month.

IN PICTURES: The Evolution of the Internet

ISOC is dedicated to the idea that the Internet should be a decentralized platform for innovation that is open to all people around the globe. ISOC sponsors the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), a standards-setting body, as well as the Internet Architecture Board, which provides technical advice to policymakers. With 120 corporate members, 100 chapters and nearly 60,000 individual members, ISOC is a powerful advocate for transparent, self-governing process for developing the technical underpinnings of the Internet.

We spoke with Lynn St. Amour (pictured), president and CEO of ISOC, about the group's biggest successes over the last 20 years and the challenges it faces in the future. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

When is ISOC's actual birthday?

The date of incorporation was in early January 1992. It basically came out of work that Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn [inventors of the Internet Protocol] were doing to create a charter statement for the organization.

What is ISOC doing to celebrate its 20th anniversary?

We're having a year-long celebration. On our website, we have a feature called "The Wishing Tree" where we are collecting people's wishes for the Internet. We're also launching an Internet Hall of Fame at the INET conference in April. We'll be announcing three categories of winners. One category is pioneers, who are the people who were there at the dawn of the Internet. Another one is for global connectors, those people who have done extraordinary things to bring the Internet to other communities, in some cases developing countries and in other cases new applications. Then we have a third category that is innovators. We'll be making the announcement of our first inductees at the global INET conference in Geneva, where we will have a gala awards dinner. Global INET will be a celebration, where we have past trustees and luminaries such as Leonard Kleinrock coming to speak. We also have Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf. INET is April 23 to 24. The gala is the 23rd.

Can you describe the state of ISOC as it turns 20?

We're stronger than we've ever been. We are very happy to continue supporting the IETF in a way that's given them autonomy for all of their activities. We're able to do that because ISOC bid to run the .org registry 10 years ago. The Public Interest Registry (PIR) is the supporting entity for ISOC to run .org. The .org income allows us to do an awful lot more in terms of development activities around the world. We do a lot with Internet exchange points and grants, where $5,000 or $10,000 can make a tremendous difference in a whole community. We're financially stable. This year our budget is $35 million, with 80% from PIR and .org registrations across the world. The rest is from our members, various IETF events and other grants. We have offices in 14 countries, with our two main offices being in Geneva and just outside Washington, D.C., in Virginia. We will have 80 employees at the end of this year.

What are ISOC's greatest accomplishments over the last 20 years?

One is our support for the IETF and enabling the IETF to maintain its culture, processes and autonomy. I think that's been a great partnership, and it's one of the things we are most proud of. Another is our policy activities. In virtually every significant body that has to do with Internet policy, we are either a member or we have special standing that allows us access to meetings and presentations. That's really come along in the last four to five years. We're extremely happy and proud of that. Lastly, the Internet is successful because of its distributed nature. We're trying to mirror that in our organization. Five or six years ago, we launched our first regional bureau. Now we have five regional bureaus in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia Pacific and North America. This allows us to build our staff and build much stronger relationships with all the regional players, whether they are policymakers or large, commercial companies. Our third major accomplishment would be our ability to distribute our engagement to a broad global reach.

What are ISOC's main challenges going forward?

Scale. There are over 260 countries in the world, and a lot of policy activity going on. Our ability to help people understand the Internet environment in a way that they can establish policy and regulate that environment in a way that's best for their citizens and best for the Internet is a pretty daunting task. We'd like to be more proactive, but often we find ourselves trying to step in and explain why we believe something is inappropriate.

ISOC is a major contributor to the IETF. Do you think the IETF is as relevant as it once was? Vendors tell me regularly that they are frustrated with the slow pace at which the IETF is able to create RFCs.

The IETF has always been the premier standards body for the Internet, and I think that is still true. As the Internet has grown, the number of applications has grown and the complexity of the environment has grown. It does take longer to develop and test a standard. I believe strongly that the IETF way of developing standards is the most appropriate. There is no other comparable body where you can openly debate and deliver standards.

With World IPv6 Day last year and the follow-on event, World IPv6 Launch in June, ISOC seems to be taking on a new role of not just supporting the development of standards like IPv6 but encouraging their deployment, too.

We do a myriad of things around IPv6, including making it evident that it is critical to policymakers, to governments around the world and to our members. This is a piece of the outreach that we do. The role we play is multifaceted. It's about trying to help the things that are good for the Internet get deployed. DNSSEC is another one that we're trying to get deployed. We've been talking for years about how do we get people to step up and deploy the things that make for a much more robust Internet. We launched the Deploy360 website that is putting things like best practices materials and case studies online. We're doing a lot of stumping at conferences to try to get some of these immediate messages about things like IPv6 and DNSSEC out. The other message that we need to get out is about trust and identity. This is an enormously critical area, and there is a lot of standards work that we are doing.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.