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Standards as weapons

By Scott Bradner

There was something wrong with the picture. Some reports from the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP) meeting in Singapore said that people were plotting to have the IETF under the control of the "new IANA" organization. This would be somewhat like a random third party telling Greenpeace that they were now to operate under the control of the whaling industry association. It could get very sticky if the people working on defining the new organization actually thought they had the power to do this.

For those of you who have not been paying attention, the IFWP ( has been holding a series of meetings around the world to try and come up with an organization to implement the recommendations in the U.S. government's White Paper on the management of some of the Internet infrastructure functions. ( At the same time the IANA, the organization which has been performing these functions since the start of the Internet itself has been soliciting comments on a series of organizational plans for the new organization and trying to integrate IFWP comments and suggestions. ( At this time it looks like these two efforts may come together. But this column is not about the effort to define a new IANA, it is about a dream of control by some people who fear the open standards development process as exemplified by the IETF (

The IETF is an international, independent, self-defining standards development organization, which has allied itself with the Internet Society. ( Its relationship with the current IANA is one where the IANA provides database maintenance and number assignment functions. The IANA is the keeper of the lists of the protocol numbers and identification strings which have been defined by IETF standards. The IANA does not tell the IETF what to do or what not to do other than to request clarity in any procedures the IETF defines to be used in assigning protocol numbers and strings. The White Paper proposes that this relationship between the IETF and the new IANA organization continue.

But it is hardly a surprise that people outside of the IETF would like to control it. The standards that have been developed by the IETF, and other organizations such as the W3C (, have created the Internet as it is today. IETF standards have caused major disruptions in many areas - particularly in the traditional telecommunications industry - while at the same time challenging the ability of governments to control the information that its citizens see.

For the last few years, a number of governments, mostly in Europe, have been trying to figure out how to "govern the technology" as one observer put it. Governments and individual companies have a significant voice in many "traditional" standards bodies but have no specific voice in the IETF. Individuals are welcome to speak their mind but there is no specific governmental or company-based influence over the management or technology evaluation in the self-funded IETF.

When governments and organizations see their plans disrupted it is natural for them to want to push back and blunt the disruption, and they are trying again, unsuccessfully, I predict.

disclaimer: After more than 360 years Harvard is used to the concept of disruptions but the above is my prediction.