Internet Society CEO sets her sights on next billion 'Net users

Not deploying IPv6 threatens Internet, Lynn St. Amour warns

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Internet has 1.3 billion users, but that’s not enough for Lynn St. Amour. As CEO of the Internet Society, she is expanding the nonprofit group, which promotes development of the Internet globally. St. Amour doubled the group’s staff in 2007 and beefed up its outreach activities in Africa, South America and Asia in her bid to add another billion Internet users worldwide. National Correspondent Carolyn Duffy Marsan sat down with St. Amour this week at a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, an ISOC-funded standards group. Here are excerpts from their conversation:

The Internet Society’s staff is growing and the organization is getting more involved with technical issues as evidenced by the hiring of Leslie Daigle as the first Chief Internet Technology Officer. Why is ISOC making these changes?

One reason is that we have the financial means. We’re acting within our purpose and mission. Putting in more full-time staff allows us to do that much more aggressively. [ISOC has 26 staff, compared with 14 a year ago.] Mark Thalhimer came on last year as our first-ever communications director to help us get our message out to different audiences. Leslie Daigle came on as Chief Internet Technology Officer to allow us to get more involved in standards development and technology. Yesterday, we added Bill Graham, who used to be with the Canadian government, to help us reach out to the highest level of policymakers. We are doing what we can to preserve the open, end-to-end model of the Internet and to address issues such as IPv4 address space exhaustion and IPv6 deployment. It’s clear that we have a unique role to play at the intersection of technology and policy. The creation of these new positions gives us significant resources to do that.

The Internet Society has 26,000 individual members. What are you doing to increase your corporate membership?

We’re reaching out along with the IETF to network operators and particular communities like ISPs. Some of those communities are participating less in the IETF than historically. It’s critical that they do participate. At the end of the day, standards are how the Internet gets deployed. We’re looking for their input in standards development. The Internet Architecture Board, [another ISOC-funded group], plans to be much more present in some of the network operator forums.

What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Internet Society in achieving its goal of open development and growth of the Internet around the world?

The first is government regulation and policies, particularly with the IPv4 and IPv6 situation. That [transition] can drive actions within countries that would be counter to the end-to-end nature of the Internet.

The second is Internet governance activities through organizations such as the United Nations. Any opportunity to get people together from different backgrounds and to talk about the Internet is ideal. But trying to put a level of formality or structure around the development of the Internet and the management of the Internet will significantly impact the value of the Internet. It’s a bad thing. We prefer the organic way the Internet has developed historically, through standards development based on need. That model has shown its strength and its goodness in the rapid growth of the Internet. Trying to force-fit a more centralized environment ala the telephony model will take away some of the good elements that have developed in the Internet.

The third is access. Enabling access includes ensuring people have the right technical skills and ensuring that there is a business environment and a regulatory environment that supports Internet development.

Why is the Internet Society promoting the deployment of IPv6?

Because it maintains the open, end-to-end Internet. That’s the primary reason. There are lots of secondary reasons about access to Internet resources and what happens if there aren’t enough IPv4 addresses. Our worry is that more [network address translation] will pop up and secondary markets for IPv4 address space will pop up that will work contrary to the purposes of the Internet.  

Are you disappointed by the lack of IPv6 deployment?

It’s hard to find what the drivers are for IPv6. Rightfully, most end users don’t care if they access the Internet over IPv4 or IPv6. So there’s no market demand. Unlike Y2K, there is no fear. There is no crisis point or date. There’s also no date when we turn off IPv4 and turn on IPv6. So all the normal trigger points are not present. We’re spending a lot of time on how do we create the impetus for movement. Disappointed is an odd word. I fully understand why people aren’t embracing it and aren’t moving. And I think it’s up to the technical community to explain the advantages of the common, open Internet and the losses if we moved to a more closed Internet. Hopefully, that will inspire action.

Is IPv6 deployment going to happen in the United States?

I hope so. I hope it’s not regulated. I hope industry does rise to the challenge. I hope we can make an argument to ISPs and network operators. The argument is the protection of the Internet, the common Internet. It’s the same parallel of why you would support open standards development. It is about increasing the market, increasing creativity, increasing benefits. By not deploying IPv6, all those things are at risk. We will see a more heavily NAT environment. We hate to see islands of Internet connectivity, but that’s the world we are facing without IPv6.

What is the Internet Society’s position on the development of standards for internationalized domain names and internationalized e-mail addresses?

We believe that’s a very, very important area as well. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is very important in the internationalized domain name space. We support all of their activities. The IETF is working on standards for internationalized domain names and e-mail addresses. But ISOC is more engaged in getting content available in local languages. Most people don’t realize that this is a problem. They think internationalized domain names are the stumbling block, and they’re not. It really is the amount of content that’s available to people in their local languages. People don’t create content. Particularly in Africa, there is relatively little to stop people from getting content in their languages, but it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s a problem of access to computers or access to the Internet. If you want to get people on the Internet, particularly in countries that aren’t as developed, you need to put up content in the local language. Whose responsibility is that? I can choose the easy answer and say it’s the government in that country. But really it’s the responsibility of every country, every educational institution, every nonprofit.

What’s your prediction for how long it will take for the next billion Internet users to get online?

That’s a hard question. We have 1.3 billion Internet users today. We tend to think of it with respect to the kind of online access that you and I have become accustomed to, from a computer, not from a mobile phone. MIT’s Media Lab has a program to provide one laptop per child [in developing countries.]  I’m interested to see how that goes, to see if that gives us a kick-start, particularly if that’s rolled out through the government with education. Without that, we’re just looking at organic growth. I believe it will be in less than a decade.

What advice would you offer to U.S. corporate network managers about what they need to be doing to prepare for the next billion Internet users to come online?

It’s less of a network management issue than a CEO issue. From a network perspective, it’s a provisioning issue, which is pretty straightforward. But the real issue in getting that many more people online from different environments and different cultures and different backbones, is how do you reach out to them and make an important link with them and make them want to be a part of your experience? That is a much broader issue than just the CIO office would handle.

In what developing countries is the Internet Society seeing the most success in Internet deployment? What countries are lagging and why?

Africa has a lot of success stories. Kenya, in particular, is doing a lot with Internet exchange points. Countries that are lagging are the ones with aggressive filtering regimes. Also lagging are some of the poorest countries in the world. Certainly Sierra Leone, which has had a difficult situation in terms of war is suffering. I really think it’s those countries suffering significant deprivation, whether it’s economic or because it’s a war-torn environment.

We have a fellowship program where we bring people from developing countries to participate in the IETF meetings. We’re doing outreach in both areas: by training people locally and by paying for them to attend our programs. We’ve put a strong mentorship program in place. There are five students here from lesser-developed countries. We find a leader in the IETF community to mentor them, and we set up meetings for them throughout the course of the week. We follow up with meetings. We also ask them to structure outreach in their country or community to help sustain their interest locally. We’ve had people here from Moldova, Mongolia, Brazil, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Kenya.

You’ve been with the Internet Society for a decade and CEO for seven years. How is it a different organization then when you joined it? How will it be different five years from now?

We’re still following the same purpose and mission. We were initially founded in 1992 by [Internet pioneers] Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. The improved financial situation has allowed us to staff up and fully address issues at the intersection of technical and policy.[ISOC’s budget grew from $14 million in 2007 to $19 million in 2008, thanks to added revenue from the .org domain, which it runs. We have 80 chapters across the world. We’re in the middle of a multiyear chapter development program. We really want to support their development so they are ISOC locally. It’s the chapters that are getting people on the Internet. As the Internet has come of age, ISOC has come of age. We have a much more global profile. We’re bigger, we’re more active in issues and we’re active at higher levels.

How will we be different a few years from now? I’d like us to have a strong network of local chapters. I’d like the chapters to be active and stable. Our organizational members are the key to our success in ISOC. It’s getting more complex to get organization members to come together in a global forum because they have different business perspectives, different cultural perspectives and different national perspectives. We’re looking at segmenting our membership in a way that’s cause related. Our cause is the Internet and Internet development. What we’d like is a really robust set of engagement models so they can participate depending on where they are in the interest chain. The commercial world is very, very significant. That is where the Internet is developed and deployed. That’s why we need to work on participation from that group.

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