Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some Thoughts on How the Technical Working Group (TWG) will Operate

Since my first blog post announcing that broad consensus on BITAG’s organizational structure had been achieved, we have received a number of responses and questions.  The most frequent questions have concerned: 1) how BITAG’s Technical Working Group (TWG) will operate; and 2) how to join.  Both are valid questions, and let me try to respond to each in turn.  In this post, I will focus on the first item, how the TWG will operate, and in the next post I will focus on how to join. 

Before I do so, however, I want to thank everyone for their enthusiasm and support for the BITAG.  I also want to apologize profusely to those that have emailed us and we have not responded to directly.  I assure you, we are not ignoring you. 

Over the past several months, in developing the operational procedures for the BITAG, I consulted with people from every part of the Internet ecosystem, including all of the companies listed on the initial press release, representatives from the Internet user community and other Internet service providers, application providers, equipment manufacturers and the content community.  The consensus organizational structure reflects the input received from each and every one of these groups. 

The Technical Working Group (“TWG”) will be the core of the substantive workings of the BITAG.  As indicated in the previous post, the BITAG will be open to any person or entity interested in the mission of the BITAG who has, or can appoint an employee that has, the necessary technical expertise to serve on the TWG.  To help maintain a balanced review of substantive issues, any participating member in the BITAG will have one and only one technical representative appointed to the TWG, and any TWG representative will have the ability to participate in the review of any technical issues brought before the TWG. 

To understand how I envision the TWG will practically operate, it might be best to use a hypothetical example:
Say, an Internet Connectivity Provider is contemplating a new or revised network management practice.  It could submit a “review request” to the BITAG asking for a review of the practice.  To be clear, anyone – whether a BITAG member or non-member – can submit a technical review request to the TWG.  If the review request falls within the mission of the TWG, a subcommittee of the TWG would be established and all TWG representatives would be invited to join the subcommittee.  The subcommittee would be tasked with conducting an objective engineering analysis of the proposed practice (new or revised) or other technical issue presented to the TWG.  As Executive Director, I personally – or someone I designate – would chair the subcommittee.  
The subcommittee would study the practice in order to determine how it might affect a “users’ Internet experience, including the impact on applications, content, or devices.”  The subcommittee would then prepare a technical report on its findings.  While there are provisions in the bylaws for weighted voting by the subcommittee, our hope and expectation is that we will be able to issue consensus-based reports in the vast majority of cases.  If the technical report is submitted to a vote, the vote would be weighted such that each member category (Application Providers, Community Representatives, Content Producers, Equipment Manufacturers and Internet Connectivity Providers) would have an equal say in the technical report and no one member category could dominate the outcome.
While we will need to develop the details of how the TWG will go about its analysis (and adjust as necessary), turning back to the hypothetical, one could imagine a process in which the TWG first makes sure it understands how the new or revised network management technique would work from a technical perspective.  Then, based on its understanding of how the technique would work and the applicant’s statement of what network management problem the applicant was trying to solve, the TWG would assess whether the technique would accomplish its intended purpose and, critically, assess whether “any unintended, adverse consequences on applications, content, or devices would result.” 
Based upon engineers working in a “problem solving” rather than adversarial process, the TWG would publicly issue a consensus report that, among other things, sets forth both the intended and unintended consequences of the network management practice in question.  Hopefully, this engineering process and resulting report would reduce the chance of miscommunications/ misunderstanding and the chance of litigation or regulatory complaint.  However, if someone chose to go the FCC or other governmental body with a complaint or to file a lawsuit about the technique, the agency involved would have, in the TWG report, relevant technical information with which it could then address any normative decisions that might be necessary.  That is, the agency would be in a much better position to expeditiously determine whether or not the intended public benefits of the new or revised technique sufficiently outweigh any adverse impact on applications, content, or devices.
The hypothetical above is just one example of how the TWG could be presented with a technical issue for review.  As I mention above, anyone – whether a BITAG member or non-member – can file a review request with the TWG.  Therefore, it is conceivable that anyone at any layer of the Internet stack who believes his or her network, application or content is being adversely impacted could submit a review request.  In such a case, the TWG would then form a subcommittee to review a request and the process would likely follow a similar path to that described above.  There will be some screening of review requests of course, for example for completeness, comprehensibility, and whether the request is germane to the mission of the BITAG.
I hope this helps you understand the nitty-gritty details of the operations of the TWG, and we will post the actual procedures as they are developed.  Again for clarity's sake, this is merely one take on how I think things will operate – the TWG itself will evolve to meet the needs of its members, and the Internet community.  Ultimately, the BITAG will succeed based on its integrity, rigor and the good faith efforts of those participating.   

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