Internet Society

The Internet Society (ISOC) is an American nonprofit organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related standards, education, access, and policy. Its mission is "to promote the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world".[6] It has consistently struggled for recognition and influence.[7]

Internet Society
FormationDecember 11, 1992 (1992-12-11)[1]
FoundersVint Cerf, Bob Kahn
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization[2]
PurposeTo promote the open development, evolution, and use of the internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.[3]
HeadquartersReston, Virginia, U.S.[3]
Region served
Official language
American English
Andrew Sullivan[4]
Gonzalo Camarillo[4]
SubsidiariesPublic Interest Registry (501(c)(3)),
Internet Society Asia Limited (Singapore)[3], Internet Society Foundation
Revenue (2018)
Expenses (2018)US$45,04,865[5]
EndowmentUS$42,970,000 (2018 - Internet Society Foundation), US$34,512,184 (2018 - cash holdings), US$1.13 billion (2019 - pending)
Employees (2018)
Volunteers (2018)
Internet history timeline

Early research and development:

Merging the networks and creating the Internet:

Commercialization, privatization, broader access leads to the modern Internet:

Examples of Internet services:

The Internet Society is an independently-funded trust consisting of individual members, organizational members, and Chapters. Individual members do not get to vote determine policy, but organizational members are represented on an Advisory Council that can determine policy and the direction that the Internet Society will take. The function of the Internet Society's chapters is to execute their own plans where they align with Internet Society policies created by the Advisory Council, subject to approval and funding from the central body.

While once boasting a large global membership base, the Internet Society lost 40,000 members in 2018 alone, and as of December 2019, the Internet Society indicates on its homepage that membership has declined to 64,538 members.[8]


The Internet Society was established in 1992 by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn[9] with one of its purposes being to provide a corporate structure to support the Internet standards development process. From its inception, the Internet Society tried to establish itself as an international organization.[10] However, the struggle for recognition both in the international realm and at the national level in the United States proved to be a tedious task. This is amazing, given the need for an organization representing the Internet in the arena of international coordination at a time (the early 1990s) when no serious competitors to the Internet Society existed.[11]

Relationship with the Internet Engineering Task Force

The central unit of standardization in Internet standards is performed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF is split into numerous working groups covering various functional areas.[12] A steering body, the Internet Engineering Steering Group, coordinates the activities of the working groups, assigns group chairs and approves the results of the groups' work. Before standards are adopted, at least two independent implementations must have demonstrated that they really work. Moreover, when a standard is proposed, it is published electronically and at some stage of the standards track it is introduced as a "Request for Comments" (RFC) in the RFC document series. Thus, a broad and unrestricted discussion of the proposal is made possible.

The founders of the Internet Society held the view that government action is not needed to provide the public good of Internet coordination. This conviction was also shared by the U.S. government, which since 1995 has repeatedly declared in official statements that it is committed to a hands-off policy. If collective rather than market coordination is needed, it should be provided by private organizations and not by American government agencies or intergovernmental organizations. Thus, the initial activities of the Internet Society aimed at establishing it in the organizational field of the Internet complex and doing just that.[13] Since its inception, the Internet Society financed the activities of the IETF and provided it with a legal umbrella.[14]

However, in 2018 the IETF began to become independent of the Internet Society, by forming its own legal entity (IETF Administration LLC). The Internet Society has committed to making payments to the IETF until 2020 to help it build up an endowment and reserve fund, after which time it will be financially independent.[15]


The Internet Society conducts a range of activities under the categories of public policy, access, and education.

Under the public policy category, the Internet Society works with governments, national and international organizations, and the private sector to promote policies about the Internet that conform to its core values. The Internet Society has been criticized for not supporting net neutrality and for not engaging with civil society.

Under the access category, the Internet Society works with community partners to support network development, interconnection, and Internet traffic exchange, and to train individuals who can build and maintain the Internet infrastructure in their regions.

Under the category of education, the Internet Society pursues its goals by coordinating and delivering hands-on technical training, seminars and conferences on topical Internet issues; supporting local and regional Internet organisations; issuing briefings and white papers on Internet technologies; and funding participation opportunities for Internet experts in developing countries.

The Internet Society is the parent company for the Public Interest Registry, which manages the .ORG top-level domain. They are currently in the process of selling this public good to a venture capital company, Ethos Capital.

Confusion over role of Chapters

The Internet Society is not a membership-driven organization, but an independent trust. Individual members have little capability to be able to control the direction taken by management. Similarly, Chapters of the Internet Society have struggled for funding where their positions do not align with the views of management or the organizational member Advisory Council. The Chapters work together in a Chapters Committee to develop recommendations and to share best practices. However, their recommendations are not always acted upon by the Board of Trustees. In 2017, all Chapters endorsed a proposal that Chapters should have control of 3% of the overall Internet Society budget with sensible provisions against financial abuse introduced. Currently, the Internet Society spends five dollars "administering" each dollar controlled by its Chapters. However, in a closed Board meeting this recommendation was rejected with no explanation offered.[16]

Membership Decline

The Internet Society claimed on its homepage to have over 100,000 members in 2018. As of December 2019, the Internet Society claims to have 64,538 members. Questions have been raised as to why over 40,000 members left in 2018.[17]

Board of Trustees

The Internet Society is governed by a board of trustees. Gonzalo Camarillo is the current chair of the board of trustees.

Current Composition

The board of trustees consists of 13 members.[18] Four members are appointed by Internet Society chapters, four members are appointed by the Internet Engineering Task Force, and four members are appointed by organizational members of the Internet Society. In addition, the President and Chief Executive Officer serves ex officio. As a result, a majority of the board of trustees are appointed by corporate interests.

Historical Composition

Until 2001, there were also trustees elected by individual members of the Internet Society. Those elections were "suspended" in 2001. This was ostensibly done as a fiscal measure due to the perception that the elections were costing too much (at the time, the organization was in a dire financial situation). In later Bylaw revisions, the concept of individual member-selected trustees went from "suspended" to being deleted altogether.[19]


Sale of .ORG to Private Equity

In 2019 the board of trustees voted unanimously to allow the CEO to enter negotiations with the private equity firm, Ethos Capital, to sell the assets of the Public Interest Registry (PIR). PIR was a non-profit subsidiary of the Internet Society which operates three top level domain names (.ORG, .NGO, and .ONG), all of which had been traditionally focused on serving the non-profit and non-governmental organization community.[20]

This sale to private equity was concerning to civil society, because the sale of PIR to a private entity will significantly alter the Domain Name System and further weaken the Internet Society's influence. PIR played an important role, as the only remaining non-commercial top-level domain registry operator, in serving as a counterbalance against commercial exploitation. PIR ran .ORG, .NGO, and .ONG for the benefit of its users, whereas other top-level domains are run by private companies with purely financial objectives. While the interests of companies and users do at times overlap, they can also conflict, and when this occurs there are significant human rights implications. PIR, as a subsidiary of the Internet Society, could be relied upon to do what was best for domain name registrants, and had a proud history of doing just that. However, PIR also gave ISOC legitimacy and influence. It allowed the Internet Society to take an active role in shaping Internet infrastructure. In relinquishing its control over PIR, the Internet Society loses its ability to directly impact how millions of people around the world positively experience the Internet every day.

See also


  1. "Internet Society". Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Government of the District of Columbia. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  2. "Internet Society". Tax Exempt Organization Search. Internal Revenue Service. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  3. "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax". Internet Society. Guidestar. December 31, 2016.
  4. "Board of Trustees". Internet Society. Retrieved July 19, 2018.
  5. Internet Society (ISOC) - Introduction to ISOC
  6. Werle, Raymund; Leib, Volker (1999). "The Internet Society and its struggle for recognition and influence". MPIfG.
  7. "After 70,000 member loss, can Andrew Sullivan revive the Internet Society?". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  9. Eisner, Gillett (1997). Coordinating the Internet. Cambridge: MIT Press. pp. 3–38.
  10. Genschel, Philipp (1993). "From National Hierarchies to International Standardization: Historical and Modal Changes in the Governance of Telecommunications". Journal of Public Policy. 13: 203–225.
  11. Werle, Raymund; Leib, Volker (1999). "The Internet society and its struggle for recognition and influence". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. "IETF and the Internet Society". Internet Society. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  13. Camarillo, G. and J. Livingood (2018-12-13). "The IETF-ISOC Relationship". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  14. Camarillo, G. and J. Livingood (2018-12-13). "The IETF-ISOC Relationship". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  15. "After 70,000 member loss, can Andrew Sullivan revive the Internet Society?". Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  16. "After 70,000 member loss, can Andrew Sullivan revive the Internet Society?". Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  17. "Board of Trustees". Internet Society. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  18. "ISOC Board of Trustees Minutes, Meeting No. 25 (December 8-9, 2001)". Internet Society. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  19. Kieren McCarthy. "As pressure builds over .org sell-off, internet governance bodies fall back into familiar pattern: Silence". Retrieved 2019-11-29.
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