IETF and the Internet Society

Vint Cerf,
18 July, 1995
A bit of history

Read more about the IETF and the Internet Society.

The Internet Society was formed by a number of people with long-term involvement in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). As a result, one of its principal rationales was to provide an institutional home for and financial support for the Internet Standards process. This rationale still exists today. In 1990, it appeared that long-term support for the standards-making activity of the IETF which had come primarily from research supporting agencies of the US Government (notably ARPA, NSF, NASA and DOE) might need to be supplemented in the future, either because such support would diminish or that requirements would exceed the limits of available support. Even at that time, attendance fees were used in part to offset on-site costs which otherwise would have had to be borne by US Federal funding.

In contemplation of the need for a mechanism for aggregating funding from many sources, it was proposed to form an Internet Society and to use its resources, in part, to provide funds in support of IETF. The plan was for the Society to engage in a variety of activities including conferences, workshops, and raise funds from industry and other institutional sources. It does so on an international basis, and acts as a neutral and internationally recognized body, devoted to the support of Internet administrative infrastructure, including, for example, IAB, IETF, IRTF and IANA. Ideas for the formation of this organization were discussed in IAB and IETF meetings early in 1991 and plans were announced at the INET Conference in June 1991 in Copenhagen. The Internet Society was officially formed in January 1992. In June, 1992, at the annual meeting of the Internet Society, INET’92, in Kobe, Japan, the Internet Activities Board proposed to associate its activities with the Internet Society and was renamed the Internet Architecture Board (IAB). Historically, the IETF and its sister organization, the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), had been considered two arms of the IAB.

During the last half of 1992, the relationship between the IAB and the IETF came under scrutiny through the first POISED Working Group which reallocated responsibilities for standards decision making and established the framework around which the current practices for populating IAB and IETF are conducted. The POISED Working Group presented its conclusions and recommendations to the Internet Society Board of Trustees in December 1992 and these were accepted as the working basis for the relationships among IAB, IESG, the Internet Society and IETF participants. Subsequently, RFC 1310 was prepared by the IETF in an attempt to codify these working principles (RFC 1602 is the current version of this document).

Starting in 1993, the Internet Society assumed its responsibilities under RFC 1602, and participated in various reviews of that process. The Internet Society provided financial support for the IETF secretariat in the amount of $225K during 1993. Financial support was not provided during 1994 because of the uncertainty of the fiscal results of the Internet Society’s other activities, notably INET’94 and the associated Developing Countries Workshop.

At the June 1995 Internet Society Board of Trustees meeting, the trustees confirmed that the highest the Internet Society’s goal was to “keep the Internet going.” It was agreed that among the high priority activities associated with that goal was to provide support for the Internet Standards process carried out by the Internet Engineering Task Force. “Support” was taken in a large sense to mean provision of service or other measures which would facilitate the work of the IETF.

The Board has taken several actions in 1995 in support of IETF:

  1. Funded legal counsel for the Internet Engineering Steering Group, specifically in aid of intellectual property rights issues in relation to standards making. Counsel is Geoff Stewart of Hale and Dorr. Mr. Stewart attended the Danvers IETF meeting and his subsequent invoice to the Internet Society (under $4000) benefitted from considerable pro bono contribution to IETF by Hale and Dorr in connection with this work.
  2. The Board of Trustees established a 1995 budget line item for funding of IETF activities (provided they fall within the scope of activities permitted under the Internet Societys 501(c)(3) non-profit status). The line item amounts to a $250K per year level of support starting in July 1995. The funds are to be spent in accordance with IETF and IESG direction as conveyed to the Internet Society by the IETF chair.
  3. The President of the Internet Society appointed the Nominating Committee chairman to carry out the task of nominating slates of appointees for IAB and IESG and, subsequently, the Board of Trustees approved the IAB slate, in accordance with the procedures of RFC 1602.
  4. At the Internet Society’s request, the insurers of the Internet Society extended its Directors and Officers liability coverage explicitly to include coverage for the members of the IESG and IAB. It did not prove possible to extend this coverage to Working Group chairs since the theory which allowed the extension of Directors and Officers liability to include IAB and IESG was not considered adequate to cover Working Group chairs.
  5. The Internet society successfully established a membership relationship between the Internet Society and the ITU which forms a basis for any desired coordination between activities of the Internet Society and various activities of the ITU, notably the ITU- Standardization Sector (ITU-T), the ITU-Radio Sector (ITU-R) and the ITU Development Sector. The activities of the IETF are most closely related to those in ITU-T, so exchange of information, joint meetings or other coordinating efforts, if any are desired, would presumably take place between IETF and ITU-T. There is no requirement for any particular interaction between these groups, only the potential should it be deemed mutually beneficial.
  6. The Board of Trustees also appointed a Vice President for Standards, Scott Bradner, to serve as liaison with the IETF. A key responsibility of this position is to convey to the Board of Trustees advice and guidance for additional facilitating actions that the Internet Society might take in support of the IETF work. Bradner is an elected Trustee of the Internet Society and a member of the Internet Engineering Steering Group.
  7. At the request of the IETF, the Internet Society signed an agreement with SUN Microsystems transferring responsibility for further evolution of the ONC RPC and XDR technical specifications to the IETF. The agreement included reference to licensing arrangements for implementors of this technology. This agreement took an inordinate amount of time to conclude and that has become grounds for re-examination of the intellectual property aspects of RFC 1602.
  8. Christian Huitema current chair of the IAB and an elected the Internet Society trustee was appointed chair of a committee to address the relationship between IETF and the Internet Society.

The POISED Working Group has a number of topics to cover, one of which is to discuss the relationship between IETF and the Internet Society. There are a number of possible outcomes of this discussion. IETF could choose to dissociate itself from any connection with the Internet Society. Or it could formally propose a relationship under the neutral, international auspices of the Internet Society. I believe there is far more to be gained by maintaining and augmenting the existing framework in which the Internet Society supports the work of the IETF, but ultimately this must be a choice made by the participants in the IETF and the members of the IESG who lead it. Regardless of the outcome, I believe that the Internet Society should continue to provide support for the IETF where possible because of the importance of its work to the continued well-being of the Internet.