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RE: Time horizon, contingencies, and destinations (was scenarios 0 and C)

2004-09-27 11:10:41
Ted Hardie wrote:
In reading through a number of the recent postings, I am struck with
the focus each has on different time horizons. 

Time horizon is part of the discrepancy, but 'true independence' is more of
a core issue as far as I can tell. There seems to be a perception that the
IETF can be a completely 'independent' body. The reality is far from that. 

Even *if* the attendance fees cover the operational costs for the IETF
proper, they will never come close to covering the RFC Editor. Following
your thought experiment, if the RFC Editor were to separate from ISOC, where
would that support money come from? If you say charging for documents; that
is the model that is so detested about similar standards publications. If
you say the same funding bodies that provide it today; how would the RFC
Editor maintain its editorial independence? Even if you ignore the fact that
fund raising distracts from the core function of the RFC Editor's office,
there is an extremely valuable, poorly understood buffer that the ISOC
provides to allow the RFC Editor to avoid any undue influence from those
providing the funds. 

To some degree the same issue arises in the IETF administration. There is
very little infrastructure that protects our 'no voting' mantra.
Decentralized funding through attendance fees helps that but is subject to
variability with the need for a guarantee body to back up any losses. At the
same time, if we go down the path of more stable centralized fund-raising by
the scenario C proposed Independent Corporation, there are likely to be some
strong strings (ropes/chains) attached to that funding with the
implicit/explicit intent to influence the outcome of the technical efforts.
Call it a membership organization or not, the outcome of this environment is
that those who are providing the funds will be in a position to demand their
way on technical issues through the threat of pulling the money. 

On the other hand, accepting some degree of 'dependence' on the ISOC is
logically buying a buffer from that threat, allowing the technical
activities to operate as independently as we expect. In any case, lacking an
endowment to cover all costs the IETF and related activities are 'dependent'
on external support. Be that on meeting fees or centralized fund raising,
the activities would completely stop without the funds. Accepting the
reality of 'dependence' is the fundamental starting point. Once that is
done, the next step is finding the appropriate corporate structure that
maintains the integrity of the technical work. To me this is a no-brainer;
scenario O solves both the short and long term issue of a buffer from
funding influence, besides being the lowest risk & cost both short and long


Bert's posts indicate
he wants the reforms we're engaged in now to work for his children;
others' indicate that they're concerned that near term hurdles in
the process could damage the IETF beyond salvage or will distract
the IETF from more critical reform of the standards track.

Both are very valuable points of view, no matter how difficult it
may seem to reconcile them at the moment.  From my perspective,
we need to have a vision of the long term for the IETF in mind, as we
recognize that tactical concerns affect the selection of immediate

For me, an end state in which an IASF can itself be a support to the IETF
and the Internet community is a good one.  I recognize that means that
there will need to be a process of growing that organization into that
role, and that process will likely involving nurturing with funds and
attention in the short term; in the longer term, I hope that meeting
fees will help make the IASF self-sufficient or nearly so.

As a thought experiment, imagine that the RFC Editor staff had a
lottery group with a winning ticket and decided en masse to
retire.  If ISI decided on some basis not to rebuild that team, the
IETF would have to look elsewhere for publication of its standards.
I would expect ISOC, which has funded the RFC Editor for many years,
to have a strong role in that process.  It might even under some
circumstances take on a much more direct role, re-using its existing
resources to keep the function going as the RFC Editor team transitioned
to their new roles as philanthropists and people of leisure.

I would expect over time, though, that the standards publication function
would move back out of ISOC into some other independent entity.
The skills needed to run the RFC Editor are different from the skills
needed to handle the policy, education, and outreach functions of
ISOC.  The independence of the RFC Editor's decisions on non-IETF
documents are also easier to make clear to the community when it
is an independent entity.  In short, the RFC Editor serves itself as
an independent support to the IETF and the Internet community, even
as it is funded by ISOC.

If the current RFC Editor won the lottery, getting back to that state
with a new standards publication entity would take the time,
attention, and financial support of ISOC.  But ISOC would
be incubating that new organization and/or relationship; it
would not be becoming the RFC Editor.  And I think the same
view holds here--the Internet community is counting on ISOC
to help incubate a new relationship (which might even be a new
relationship with the existing folks doing the work).  But incubating
that relationship and the IETF support organization that anchors
it does not mean that the ISOC needs to become that support
organization.  In the short term, yes, the organization needs
ISOC's support, time, and attention; in the longer term, the
community is better off if an IASF can serve as an independent support
(whether funded by fees, ISOC, or some combination of the two).

If that means that tactically we start out with scenario O and
consider other changes as they are needed; okay--that may
be the tactical necessity.  I believe, though, that the strategic
vision should remain one of independent supporting
organizations, and that we should reach for that now if we
believe we can get there.  Multiple transitions will be painful,
either for us our successors, and saving that pain is a worthwhile
goal unless we are very sure that the staged transition
has other benefits.

Just two cents from an IETF participant,
                                      Ted Hardie

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