The IETF and an Evolving Internet


IETF LogoLast week, the Internet Engineering Task Force (i.e. the “IETF”) held their meeting in Beijing, China.  The IETF’s mission is “to make the Internet work better by producing high quality, relevant technical documents that influence the way people design, use, and manage the Internet.”   As the Internet is global, the IETF meets three times a year at various locations around the world. The previous meeting was held in Maastricht, Netherlands in July of this year.  Upcoming meetings in 2011 are scheduled for Prague, Czech Republic, in Quebec City, Quebec and in Taipei, Taiwan.

Last week’s IETF meeting had good participation, with 1,177 attendees.  And the IETF continues to grow, with 71 more attendees than attended IETF last year.

The IETF is truly an international organization, with the number of countries represented continuing to increase.  One year ago, at the Hiroshima, Japan meeting there were 42 countries represented.  Last week, 52 countries participated.  Interestingly, the United States did not have the most participants in Beijing.  China had 366 attendees, while the U.S. had 320.

The IETF has Working Groups that focus on specific technical topics, and are organized within seven general areas:  Applications Area, Internet Area, Operations and Management Area, Real-time Applications and Infrastructure Area, Routing Area, and Security and Transport Area.  To give you an idea of the expansiveness of the IETF, there are approximately 124 Working Groups in these seven areas.  And, in just the last four months, these groups have produced 108 RFCs (“Request for Comments”), which are draft specifications.  These RFCs amount to over 3,300 pages of work.  In fact, 65 of these RFCs are on-track to become standards.  The diagram below shows how many RFCs that IETF has published over the years.

Number of RFC documents per Year by IETF

All of this goes to show that the IETF provides a much needed global standards setting forum for the continued development for the Internet.  Most importantly, it shows that Internet is dynamic, not static.  As the 124 different IETF Working Groups continue to develop new guidelines and standards, the Internet will continue to evolve.  And, it is a good example of how a vibrant Internet can flourish without government intervention locking in certain aspects of the Internet.

Yesterday, David Cohen, EVP of Comcast Corporation, delivered a speech at an event hosted by the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.   In it, he said “The Internet is too big and too important for government to ignore… and is too complex and too dynamic for government to regulate intrusively.  Let’s learn from the Internet itself – it is flourishing as a self-governing, self-healing ecosystem, and the more we can take advantage of that model, coupled with reasonable, consensus-based regulation, the better.”

Because we recognize the importance of the IETF’s mission, the U.S. cable industry is active in the organization. Cable operators, CableLabs and NCTA support and participate in IETF. We believe that it is this kind of open collaborative process that will help the Internet continue to progress.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: William A. Check, Ph.D. is Senior Vice President, Science & Technology and Chief Technology Officer of NCTA. You can find news coverage of David Cohen’s remarks at WaPo, LAT and NJ‘s Tech Daily Dose. Cohen also wrote a post on the Comcast Voices blog.]