ERCIM News No.37 - April 1999
The Role of the Internet Society
by Klaus Birkenbihl
Growth rates of more than 100% per annum since 15 years. Though: Who does take care of the Internet? In 1992, a group around the Internet inventor Vint Cerf established the Internet Society (ISOC). In an environment increasingly influenced by market and competition, ISOC secures the conditions for the continuance and cohesion of the Internet. Since 1995, the Deutsche Interessengemeinschaft Internet (DIGI e.V.), which was also established in 1992, has been a German section of ISOC.
For the normal users, the Internet is simply there. They pay the required charges to T-Online, AOL or another service provider and hope that the provider will guarantee that it works. However, the provider - even if it is called AOL or Telekom - maintains and controls only a minor part of what makes up the Internet. And this is not only technology. The Internet is an important part of the infrastructure for the global information society. The Internet is an economic and political factor whose further development and regulation will influence the live of everyone decisively.
Hardly visible in the stir caused by the conflict among the Internet giants Microsoft, Netscape, Oracle, IBM, CISCO and others, the Internet Society has undertaken the task to shape and advance the technical, political and cultural future of the Internet. The Internet Society regards itself as the international organization which furthers the global cooperation and coordination for the Internet, its technologies and applications. Everyone interested in the further development of the Internet can become a member of the Internet Society. Conferences and technical and political bodies give ample opportunity to exert influence on international and national level. Individual members who want to participate in shaping the mediums future are equally welcome as companies which use or offer the Internet as modern technology for their purposes.
Technology and administration
The standards for communication in the Internet are defined in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). More than 80 working groups in 8 fields of work are concerned with specific technical subjects. IETF does its work during three big meetings of more than 1500 participants per year and by means of all the communication means provided by the Internet.
On behalf of ISOC and the Federal Network Council (FNC) of the USA, the central resources of the Internet, eg names, addresses and protocol parameters have been managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) under the direction of Ian Postel, who tragigcally died last summer. Currently ISOC is intensively involved in restructuring the management of these resources within the new organisation ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).
ISOC carries out its mission to propagate and advance the idea of the Internet on various conferences whose biggest - the INET-Conference - is held alternatingly on different continents in summer. Pioneering efforts are put forth by specific workshops on these conferences. The workshop for developing and threshold countries, for example, contributed decisively to the fact that there is hardly any country in the world not having access to the Internet. Further key subjects of INET are issues of political regulation and social impacts of technology in addition to technical innovations, new applications and areas of application.
The Internet Society clearly gives its members view on the cryptography discussion, on the problem of admitted contents and on the free and secure flow of information on the Internet.
The statement that the Internet is prirmarily a US undertaking is certainly not completely incorrect. But it is changing. The Internet meanwhile shows greater growth rates outside the USA than within the USA. Within the Internet Society, regional chapters give the opportunity to exert influence on the development on regional level. Many of these groups are still in the process of organization so that their effectiveness will be visible only in some years. Recently, a number of the European chapters formed a group called ISOC-ECC (ISOC European Coordination Council) to coordinate their activities and to better safeguard their interests towards the European Union.
DIGI e.V. and ISOC.DE
In Germany, where the Internet has been poorly organized and hardly accepted till the early 1990s for different reasons, in 1992, simultaneously with the Internet Society - the Deutsche Interessengemein-schaft Internet (DIGI e.V.) was established to improve the conditions for propagating the Internet in Germany. The establishment of a national Network Information Center (DENIC), for managing addresses and names on national level, is equally a goal of this group as the technical and political discussion about the Internet in Germany in particular.
In 1995, DIGI e.V. was recognized by ISOC as German Chapter of the Internet Society. Since then, DIGI e.V. uses the abbreviation and the Internet domain ISOC.DE e.V. Like the global ISOC, ISOC.DE gives its view on organizational, technical and political issues pursuing the further development of the Internet.
ISOC.DE clearly states its point of view on subjects such as safeguarding the DENIC which manages the .de domain, the cryptography discussion in Germany, Internet and censorship and structural issues of the Internet in Germany. The annual conference, Opennet, to be held this year in Bad Honnef from 15-17 November 1999 will give ample opportunity for discussions and first-hand information.
With hardly 7000 members worldwide and 250 in Germany, ISOC is certainly still in the initial states of its work. Therefore, the claim to speak for the Internet community cannot be backed by the number of members. Today, it is rather the expertise concentrated in ISOC, the efficient way of agreeing on standards and the absolute independence of any business interests which lend weight to ISOC. But this is changing. More and more companies discover the Internet as an important business sector where showing technical and organizational competence might be an asset. And the intention of these companies to swamp the Internet with proprietary standards is not to be overlooked. The political pressure to curb the Internet through regulation is also increasing. The Internet Society is therefore confronted with the urgent task to recruit a solid basis of members. This is the only way to attain the goal to exert a substantial influence on the development of an open Internet.
W3C and ISOC.DE Offices: http://www.gmd.de/w3c/welcome.html
Klaus Birkenbihl - GMD
Tel: +49 2241 14 2910