Response to WG last call, Problem Statement: Thoughts on the IETF problem statement

Robert Snively rsnively at
Thu Nov 20 21:07:09 CET 2003


No matter how you count it, it costs real money to participate
in IETF.  At a minimum, it costs $100 for a used computer and
$20/month for an internet connection, plus a roof and electricity.

In most cases, organizations are also funding the time of
their participants, their travels to the IETF meetings, and
the meeting fees (which are higher in IETF than for most
other SDOs).  IETF chooses to pretend that corporate
sponsorship is not part of the activity.

As an example of a successful standards organization that
has sliding fees, one can consider IEEE.  To participate in
IEEE standards voting, individuals pay $35/yr to join the standards
and from $25 to $147/yr to join the IEEE, based on location
and status.  One must also request membership in the balloting

INCITS charges $800/yr per member organization for
2 participants and 2 free participants in each subcommittee. 
Membership also entails periodic meeting attendance and
voting in letter ballots.

Neither IEEE nor INCITS prohibit non-paying people from
participating and contributing, just from voting.
None of these fees are prohibitive compared with the other
costs of participation, but these fees are sufficient to 
formalize the separation between those who are members
and those who participate as a matter of
less serious interest or as a social activity.

Having a defined membership and voting pool, together with a formalized
and documented voting system, eliminates a significant amount
of the technical churn present in IETF activities.  Decisions are
made, agreed upon, documented, and the organization moves on.
That does not prevent hot-blooded flamewars from occurring, but
it provides a formal mechanism to resolve them, and if necessary,
re-open them.

I believe a careful review of the minutes of INCITS and IEEE
organizations would not reveal any unexpected problems in the membership
and voting process.  Robert's Rules of Order have been relatively
successful as a guide to fairness and process for both chairs and
participants since about 1876.

Such formalization also provides for effective liaison and allows
the technical excellence of the product (a standard) to be under control of
the individual working group.  Technical review can then be
broadened into the public at large as well as to other interested
working groups, reducing the technical review load on the 
directors of the organization.

The IETF model is the one that is really experimental.  It can be
very successful among a bounded group of like-minded people, but
has already shown significant problems in scalability.  

I hope that I have properly addressed your questions.


> Robert,
> 	Is there an example of a successful SDO that guarantees open
> and fair access to all interested participants but does not require
> membership fees? Or are you implying that those who cannot afford
> membership fees cannot be interested enough?
> 	IETF does not require fees for low-level members that do not
> want to get elected to IESG positions and such. This is both good
> (more good engineers can participate) and bad (lack of money and
> commitments). I do not know of any comparable SDO that does not have
> fees or similar entry barriers. Do you?
> 	IETF membership policies are in the root of many of not most
> IETF problems. Are there real-world examples where similar policies do
> not cause the problems we face? Or are we in the unchartered
> territory here?
> Thanks,
> Alex.
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