What does external relations mean to the RIPE NCC, and what exactly have we been up to in this area lately?
That was the topic of my recent update to the RIPE community at the RIPE 74 Meeting in Budapest. And even though the presentation and webcast are available online, I wanted to also share some of the ideas I covered in that presentation with you here on RIPE Labs, to make sure as many of our members and the RIPE community know exactly what the RIPE NCC’s External Relations team is up to these days, and how it impacts you.
Some Background – What We Do
Many of you have probably met some of the External Relations team during the Working Group sessions at a RIPE Meeting or at an ENOG, SEE or MENOG Meeting, over a plate of schnitzel or borsch or kebabs at one of the many Member Lunches we’ve hosted, or in the hallways of meetings like the Internet Governance Forum or EuroDIG.
These are just a few examples of the different ways we reach out to you – our members and members of the wider RIPE community – and where we participate in other forums, promoting the open, inclusive, bottom-up self-regulatory processes at the heart of RIPE.
We provide technical expertise and analysis, defend and explain the legitimacy of RIPE policies, and, at times, defend RIPE itself and the global registry system in a variety of forums and channels. This means that we deal with a lot of different people and organisations, each with their own perspectives on how the Internet is or should be managed, and try to position the RIPE NCC as a trusted authority on IP addressing issues.
Essentially, the External Relations team are the eyes and ears of the RIPE NCC. It’s our job to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to regulatory changes, technical trends and changes in the environment that affect the RIPE NCC organisation and ultimately you, our members and the RIPE community.
We also provide technical expertise to policy-making bodies, including governments, regulators and law enforcement agencies, so they have the understanding they need of how the Internet works and what current best practices are when making public policy decisions that impact you.
And we support the development of local technical communities, like network operator groups (NOGs), to encourage the healthy growth of the Internet across our service region and provide resources where they are most needed and where they can have the biggest impact.
Cooperation and Coordination
Of course, we don’t do this alone. We need to coordinate with other organisations involved in Internet administration, like ICANN, the IETF, IEEE, ISOC and the other RIRs in order to achieve our shared goals and represent a united front on such matters as standards and promoting an open, bottom-up, and inclusive model of Internet governance. And we work closely with our other colleagues right across the RIPE NCC organisation. After all, there are only 11 of us on the External Relations team, while the RIPE NCC needs to cater for nearly 16,000 members and the wider RIPE community across a service region of 76 countries. I’m proud that, in the past year, we managed to organise 77 separate events in 44 of those countries, with a focus on engaging our membership and technical community members, as well as other stakeholders. And if we didn’t happen to host an event in your country, it’s no doubt on our list for the upcoming year. This is part of a bigger shift from a regional engagement approach to a more granular level, and there has been an increasing demand in recent years for the RIPE NCC to organise or contribute to events at the local, national level.
Current Challenges, Hot Topics and Our Approach
So what do we learn from all of this outreach? Well, I am approaching 25 years in this industry, and I’ve seen a mountain of change in that time. For one, our membership is changing. Our members used to be drawn almost entirely from our "classic" community - that is, the technical operators who have been running the Internet since the early days. Today, we’re seeing different types of organisations coming on board, from enterprises to banks to governments. Some of these may want to get involved in the RIPE Working Groups or policy development or be interested in Internet governance, but others may simply want to obtain their /22 of IPv4 space from us and be on their way. Identifying and meeting the needs of all of our members, from the more traditional to the more recent, is one of our biggest overall challenges.
There are also external challenges and hot topics we see emerging across our service region. Many of them will be familiar to you: security, privacy, IPv6 and new or evolving technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), "smart cities" and 5G. All of these impact our membership and the RIPE community in some way. In some instances, our role is to figure out how we can promote certain concepts or ideas, like convincing executive-level decision makers that IPv6 is a solid investment in the future of their operations. In other cases, we’re still trying to figure out what role we can or should play, which is the case when it comes to working out our strategy with the community on IoT.
Some less technical hot topics at the forefront right now are accountability and regional diversity. External organisations, including governments and law enforcement agencies, are taking a closer look at the RIPE NCC and our processes, and we need to ensure we hold ourselves to a high standard in terms of documenting and demonstrating our own accountability. This has included a recent thorough review of our corporate governance, along with other measures (like the RIPE community establishing its own accountability task force), all of which will help us defend the RIR system to the rest of the world.
Even though these issues apply across our service region, we must take a regional approach in how we deal with them. Ours is an incredibly diverse region, with 76 countries that span a range of different political and regulatory environments, economies, levels of technical development, cultures, languages, time zones and distances. For this reason, we have a number of staff based in Dubai and Moscow, in addition to our base in Amsterdam. Only by being on the ground in these diverse regions can we gain the nuanced understanding of what is happening and what is needed in each of them.
Some of the hot topics in Western Europe at the moment include government and law enforcement engagement; privacy, security and national regulations; market pressures and NOGs and IXPs – and so it’s in these areas that we’ve increased our engagement and come up with new ways of making sure we have a voice in the debate.
We’ve held Roundtable Meetings for governments and regulators for a number of years now, but one new initiative is tailored trainings, including a new webinar series, for law enforcement. We’re also now working with a firm in Brussels to more closely follow EU policy and regulations and how these can potentially impact the RIPE NCC organisation or the RIPE community.
We’re working more closely with business stakeholders to understand market pressures when it comes to new or evolving technology like the IoT, including becoming a member of the Alliance of Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI). And we’ve contributed to many NOGs and IXP events, and recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Euro-IX to solidify our working relationship with them and cooperate more closely together.
And of course, we are working hard to engage with our membership in Western Europe, through our own Member Lunches, as well as via participation in the many community-organised events that take place across the continent.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia
In this part of our service region, there’s a big demand for training and capacity building, along with more locally tailored events and translations. We are seen as a partner organisation that can bring the various players together in a neutral venue, and help facilitate more community connections.
As a result, we organise a lot of IPv6 Roadshows in the region, along with our Train the Trainer program, in which we train local technical experts to deliver training in the local language.
We’ve also focused more on local events, including Member Lunches, half-day meetings on targeted technical topics relevant to our members, and the first Roundtable Meeting for governments and regulators in the region this year. We have contributed to the Central Asia Internet Governance Forum and hosted tailored training courses for local law enforcement agencies. And we’ve launched a community-based project to translate some RIPE NCC materials into local languages so that our members have easier access to the information they need.
There’s also a big demand for training and capacity building in the Middle East, along with interest from the academic community, hunger for IXP development, and a need for local community building.
We also organise a lot of IPv6 Roadshows here – in fact, it’s the region where the roadshows concept originated. The Train the Trainer program is also in demand so that, like in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, people have access to local trainers in their own language. This also ensures that we can pass on the skills needed for locals to train locals. This supports a more robust capacity building effort and involves our community (as well as other stakholders) working together.
We’ve helped kick-start local NOGs in Iran, Palestine and Yemen, and have held targeted events for some of our newer stakeholders, including the banking sector and regulators. We’ve also developed a successful program for the academic community that brings together students from across local universities to learn more about how the Internet functions and what role the RIPE NCC plays in the Internet ecosystem.
Looking Ahead to the Future
With so much to focus on, the External Relations team is actually in the process of expanding: we added one new External Relations Officer to our Amsterdam-based team last autumn, and we’re bringing on board two more this year, one based in Dubai to boost our efforts in that region and another who will focus on increasing our engagement in Central Asia.
I’m incredibly proud of the work that our team does on behalf of our members and the RIPE community – and I hope you are, too. My parting message to you is that we’re here for our members, so please let us know what interests you, what concerns you and how we can better support you. We regularly report back on our activities in much shorter, more issue- or event-specific posts – here on RIPE Labs, in the Member Updates, and at all of our regional and local events, which often include remote participation. I encourage you to get involved and stay in touch, and we hope to cross paths with you, either in person or online, sometime soon.