In ending this series — which I hope has been useful for Packet Pusher’s readers to get a solid survey of the entire Internet’s operational structure — we’ll talk about one of the “forgotten” groups of people helping to build and maintain the ‘net as we know it. Without this organization the Internet probably simply couldn’t exist. And yet most engineers, even those who’ve been working in and around the global ‘net for many years, simply don’t know about this organization.
Who am I talking about? The Internet Society, also commonly known as “ISOC”. The structure of the Internet Society is a little different from the other organizations discussed so far, as it’s focused on the intersection between governing and growing the Internet. Founded in 1992 to provide a financial and legal home for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society has expanded its activities over the years to include public policy, advocacy for technologies such as IPv6 and helping expand Internet access in many parts of the world. Many readers may be familiar with efforts such as World IPv6 Launch that were organized by the Internet Society.
The Internet Society receives support from companies active in the Internet space through their membership, which also entitles them to attend meetings, participate in various policy forums, hold a position on various Internet Society governing bodies, and provide input to policy issues facing the Internet. Over 70,000 individual members also participate, many in the 110 local Internet Society chapters, to support the organization, learn about Internet governance issues, and network with other members. Membership is free and anyone is welcome to join.
The Internet Society undertakes a number of activities.
Of crucial importance is its participation in various governmental and intergovernmental forums revolving around Internet governance. This work primarily focuses on keeping the Internet open and accessible, a “free speech zone” where everyone can participate in open dialogue. This work involves interacting with government agencies around the world to help set policy towards the Internet that encourages open and free participation, helping states to craft and implement policies that both offer protection for their citizens while reducing or eliminating censorship in all its forms.
This work also involves participating in international conferences where various Internet governance issues are addressed, such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and 2012’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).
Basically, the Internet Society acts as a voice for the technical community on all those Layer 8 / Layer 9 issues that most of us don’t want to deal with – and also acts as a channel back to the technical community about Internet governance issues.
As I mentioned earlier, Internet Society was formed to be the organizational home of the IETF and the IRTF — two organizations discussed in previous posts in this series. As part of this work, the Internet Society works to normalize relations between the various standards bodies throughout the world, particularly providing connections and expertise in dealing with the governments that form and maintain them. The Internet Society also sponsors government actors (such as regulators) to come and observe the work of the IETF, so they can understand not only how to interact with an international volunteer-based standards organization, but also just to educate governments on the openness and the process, and to encourage participation.
The Internet Society encourages the growth of the Internet throughout the world. One aspect of this work, for instance, is encouraging and directly supporting building new Internet exchange points (IXPs) throughout the world — particularly in developing areas where these IXPs can attract business and connectivity. Where the Internet grows, the economy and freedom ultimately grow as well. A number of tutorials and training materials are developed and delivered each year under the auspices of the Internet Society on a global basis. The organization also offers a series of grants to help fund
work at a local or regional level.
The Internet Society, then, does crucial work in keeping the Internet open and free, in underwriting the technical work required to build the Internet on the wire, and in supporting the growth of the Internet.