Who owns and runs the Internet: the special role of ISOC

The Internet Society (ISOC) was launched in January 1992 to "provide assistance and support to groups and organizations involved in the use, operation, and evolution of the Internet". Initially it was envisaged as a professional society supporting development of the Internet as a global research communications infrastructure, led by key luminaries Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn and Lyman Chapin.

Not surprisingly, the purpose of ISOC has subsequently evolved as the Internet has become near-ubiquitous. Today, its principal purpose is described as "to maintain and extend the development and availability of the Internet and its associated technologies and applications - both as an end it itself, and as a means of enabling organizations, professions, and individuals worldwide to more effectively collaborate, cooperate, and innovate in their respective fields and interests".

But what does that mean in practice?

Three strands of activity stand out in particular:

• First, ISOC is the organizational home of the core Internet standards-making body, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Unusually, the IETF is a totally open body with no membership requirements. It is an international community of network designers, operators, vendors and researchers focused on the evolution of Internet architecture and the smooth running of the Internet. The principal vehicle for discussion within the IETF is the "Request for Comments" (RFC) publication series. RFCs are published by the RFC Editor and once published are never modified.

• Second, as well as providing a home for the IETF, ISOC is involved in a variety of technological, educational, social, economic, standards, political, ethical and legal programmes that influence the direction of the Internet. ISOC also publishes several series of technical articles online. And it is actively committed to promoting child safety online.

• Third, ISOC is the sole member of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), a not-forprofit corporation created by ISOC in 2002 to manage the .org top level domain "in an exemplary manner, while educating and empowering the global non-commercial community to use the Internet more effectively and, concurrently, to take a leadership position among Internet stakeholders on policy and related issues on behalf of the .org community". Registry support services for PIR are provided by Afilias, who also provide registry services for the .aero community.

Membership structure

For individuals, ISOC offers two levels of membership - Sustaining Members (US$75 p.a.) and Global Member (free of charge). As well as gaining access to the full breadth of ISOC publications, conferences and meetings, Members are also encouraged to join ISOC's worldwide network of Chapters. These aim to influence local and regional policy and help ensure that a new generation of technologists and end users has access to relevant tools and information.

The Society is also opening Regional Bureaux as a focal point for regional educational, capacity building and policy initiatives - working with local Chapters, members and the regional Internet community. The first was established in 2006 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the second is due to be opened this year covering Latin America and the Caribbean.

Organizational membership is open to corporations; non-profit, trade and professional groups; foundations, educational institutions, government agencies and other international organizations. Membership levels vary according to funds provided, from Platinum through to Small Business Member. SITA is an Executive Member of ISOC.

ISOC plays a central role in the evolution of the Internet, both in setting global standards and in educating and enthusing peoples across the world in the use of the technology. The same spirit of excitement pervades the Society today as it did in those dim distant days of 1992 - perhaps best summed up in the closing paragraph of the original announcement of the creation of ISOC: "It is time. The technology is available. A global renaissance of scientific and technical cooperation is at hand. You are cordially invited to take part in an enterprise without precedent and an adventure without boundary. The Internet Society sets sail in January of 1992 on a voyage of internetwork discovery.Will you be aboard?"

For more information, go to www.isoc.org. The IETF can be found at www.ietf.org.