Internet Topology and Terminology

12 November 2007 - A Best Practice Forum on Internet Governance for Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


This Best Practice Forum is intended to demonstrate the global commonality of experience and understanding of the Internet's basic topology and terminology. Speakers representing Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America will relate their experiences in dealing with challenges of common understanding of the underlying principles of Internet technology and governance, and discuss ways of arriving at shared terminology and meaningful discussion of these complex issues.

This Best Practice Forum is intended to provide an educational, factual backdrop to the policy debates which will be the focus of the IGF. Many people in the civil society and intergovernmental spheres, whose interest in Internet governance is relatively recent, are potentially disadvantaged in fully participating in the debate by the abstruse technical terminology and concepts. This workshop will serve as a layperson’s introduction to the topology of the Internet, providing definitions and explanations for key terms like transit,peeringhot-potatoexchange pointroot and top-level domain name serverrouting and forwarding, and the International Standards Organization’s seven-layer protocol model.

The proposers of this forum believe that participation in the first IGF was, though vigorous, hampered by a virtual "tower of Babel," in which many participants had difficulty finding common ground not because of differences of opinion, but simply because of a lack of shared understanding of the terms of art. We would like to see new entrants into the community enabled to participate fully and confidently, rather than being intimidated into silence by the barrage of new terminology. This offer should not be seen as patronizing on the part of the technical community… Quite the opposite: the technical community recognizes better than anyone how challenging entry into this field can be, and in the spirit in which the Internet was constructed, seeks to give everyone an equal chance to participate in building the global network of the future.

We believe that a basic introduction of the sort proposed herein is needed at not just the second IGF, but at every future IGF. This type of introductory workshop is de rigeur and provided as a matter of course at every Network Operators Group and Regional Internet Registry meeting, several dozen times each year.

Proposed Program

This forum is proposed to fit within a 90-minute slot, as follows:

20 minutes - Nishal Goburdhan, speaking on global Internet topology, from a background in academic and commercial network operations in Africa and globally 

5 minutes - Discussion led by Bill Woodcock

20 minutes - Christian O'Flaherty, speaking on Internet economics and terminology, from a background in NGO and commercial network operations in Latin America

5 minutes - Discussion led by Bill Woodcock

10 minutes - Richard Lamb, speaking on the structure of and interrelationships between the Internet governance organizations, from a background in Internet governance and intergovernmental affairs

30 minutes - Cross-speaker and participant dialog

Proposing Organizations

This Best Practice Forum is being proposed by a global coalition of organizations that provide technical expertise and services in the communications sector, and share a common desire that participants in the IGF process have ready availability to, and a shared understanding of, the technical underpinnings of the Internet and the terminology used to describe them. These organizations include:

• Afilias, a for-profit domain-name infrastructure services corporation, incorporated in Ireland;

• AIMS, a commercial enterprise headquartered in Kuala Lumpur, providing critical Internet infrastructure and facilities in Arabic countries;

• AfriNIC, the not-for-profit African Regional Internet Registry, providing bottom-up Internet governance in the network number space from offices throughout the African continent;

• LACNIC, the not-for-profit Regional Internet Registry providing critical Internet number resources in Latin America and portions of the Caribbean;

• ARIN, the not-for-profit Regional Internet Registry governed by stakeholders in Canada, the United States, and parts of the Caribbean;

• The Number Resources Organization, or NRO, the association of the five Regional Internet Registries;

• The Office of Utilities Regulation of the Government of Jamaica; and

• Packet Clearing House, a not-for-profit NGO supporting affordable and reliable critical communications infrastructure globally, with offices in London, San Francisco, and Kathmandu.

The composition of the proposing group ensures its adherence to multi-stakeholder principles. Members represent the governmental, NGO, civil society, Internet governance, and commercial sectors, from both developing and developed nations, and the northern and southern hemispheres. The three speakers represent three ethnicities and four continents, if you count origin and domicile separately.