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29/07/2015

Internet Engineers in Buenos Aires

For the first time, Latin America will welcome the annual meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires in early 2016, this meeting will make history, as until now this group of individuals who contribute to Internet technology engineering and evolution have always met in the Northern hemisphere.

The IETF is the leading organization committed to the development of new Internet standards. It brings together nearly 1,200 people from every corner of the world, including members of LACNIC’s engineering department.

Christian O’Flaherty, Senior Development Manager for Latin America and The Caribbean at the Internet Society (ISOC), highlighted the importance of this meeting for the region and the greater involvement of Latin American and  Caribbean engineers at IETF meetings.

What can you tell us about the Buenos Aires IETF meeting?

For the first time, the group that develops Internet standards and services will meet in Latin America. This group also discusses the changes needed to improve Internet stability, security, and growth.

Standards are needed for the Internet to operate as a global network, even though it uses hardware and software provided by different manufacturers. There is no single authority to dictate how things should work. Any necessary standards are discussed by different working groups on their respective mailing lists.

Each year, the IETF organizes three face-to-face events, where these working groups meet for sessions that last two hours or more. The purpose of these meetings is to further the discussions that take place on the mailing lists, seek consensus, and discuss the creation of new working groups.

Why is it important for Latin America that the IETF is holding this meeting within the region?

Today, our region doesn’t have a strong presence in IETF working groups. Meetings are held in locations that favor the attendance of working group participants, which is why they have always been held in the more developed countries. The IETF needs to improve its geographical diversity, which is why it has decided to hold a meeting in our region in order to promote Latin American participation. This is a unique opportunity, as we don’t know how long it will be until the next IETF meeting in our region.

Who is part of the IETF? What are their roles?

The IETF is made up of individuals (as opposed to company representatives) who participate in the different working groups out of personal interest. Their roles are very diverse and can range from simply reading what is posted to the mailing lists, to authoring documents or being part of the IETF’s leadership and serving as Working Group Chairs, Area Directors, etc.

How many Latin American engineers participate at the IETF?

Less than fifty people from our region participate in these meetings (equivalent to less than 4% of the total number of participants). This figure is very low compared to the number of Internet users or people living in our region. However, although it’s quite difficult to estimate, the number of people participating on the mailing lists is higher than this.

The important thing is that interest in the IETF and awareness of its importance are increasing, a fact we see reflected in the number of participants involved in the various activities of the IETF-LAC@lacnog.org group, which helps members of the regional community take their first steps at the IETF. This group is led by Alvaro Retana, a Costa Rican native who is also Area Director at the IETF.

How does knowledge of Internet standards in Latin America compare with rest of the world?

Latin American professionals have enough knowledge and expertise to make significant contributions at the IETF. Our universities provide professionals with the technical level needed to understand and participate. The equipment and protocols used by our network operators are at the same level as those used in the US or
Europe. Perhaps we have not yet reached the critical mass necessary for potential participants understand the value of participating. Once they see that their colleagues, friends, and neighbors who participate are able to get better jobs, good references, and contacts, participation will begin to grow. We hope this meeting in Buenos Aires will help overcome this barrier.