Some changes to RIPE, and more to come

2020-11-30 News

By Monika Ermert, eLance Journalist - At the RIPE81 meeting which took place at the end of October, the new leadership duo, RIPE Chair Mirjam Kühne and Executive Director Hans Peter Holen, presented preliminary ideas of changes to come.

Major trends include increasing geopolitical pressure on internet governance institutions, the incorporation of an increasing number of internet infrastructure providers – including ccTLDs – under politically charged labels such as “critical infrastructure”, and a professionalisation of RIPE / the RIPE NCC leadership. IPv4 scarcity has brought a decline in new membership applications, there will be reorganisations of departments, and for the first time the RIPE NCC has had to withhold allocation services from members due to international sanctions. At the same time, the organisation is now engaging in inclusivity, focusing part of its resources to greater availability of information in non-English languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Turkish.

Geopolitics and the call for digital sovereignty

The one big challenge to the RIPE NCC was geopolitics, Holen said during the meeting. With more and more governments regulating internet infrastructure providers “there may be economic reasons to keep scarce resources in their economy, there may be geopolitical reasons to avoid exclusion from the internet because of sanctions from other parties”, he said.

Current sanctions against three Iranian RIPE members illustrate the geopolitical issues, as well as a keener rhetoric around national critical infrastructures and digital sovereignty. The RIPE NCC follows Dutch and EU sanction lists, and has thus frozen the accounts of its Iranian members, allowing them only to operate on the resources they have currently been allocated. Discussions with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs continue and Holen underlined that he would “like to see an exemption from all sanctions going forward. That may however not be very likely”.

Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging

Mirjam Kühne staked out diversity and inclusion as new focus areas. She said she wanted to find practical ways to “include the next generation into the community in a way that they feel a part of it and participate actively”.

Translating more of the most important documents into Arabic, Russian, Turkish, Farsi, Spanish and Italian was one such step. Kühne also hopes to use the digital participatory tools for all those who are unable to travel to the RIPE meetings, even after the Covid pandemic.

“It is tough to keep a community together which is based so very much on trust and personal relations [and it is even harder for newcomers”, Kühne said. At the same time, registration numbers have climbed up to over 1000 participants per meeting, making the virtual sessions more populated than any face-to-face meeting.

Addressing regulatory issues, more monitoring?

Registries and root public key infrastructures (RPKI) have been increasingly categorised as critical infrastructures, making compliance and security the focal points for 2021.

The RIPE NCC is therefore looking not only into external audits of its own registry but also into auditing the overall security of its infrastructure. According to this line, they will be “looking at proactively monitoring the accuracy of our register”. One mechanism to be introduced is third party monitoring of changes.

Holen announced that the organisation had to make an inventory of core projects and projects that could be “released back to the community”. The RPKI validator is the first of several possible examples. It will be archived in June 2021.

Structural reform

The ongoing Covid crisis notwithstanding, the RIPE NCC was planning for a decrease in membership growth, due to regular IPv4 allocations no longer being possible. Last mile allocations resulted in a near tripling of the LIR account in the last five years, but now accounts are being merged and there are only sparse recovered IPv4 addresses available for new entrants.

In 2021, RIPE expects to cut costs by 3%. While FTE count is going up (165 to 170 employees), a lower average salary cost, alongside an overall reduction in expenses, is also on the table.

Mirjam Kühne is the first RIPE Chair to be paid for the job. The budget foresees a cost of 205.000€ for her salary and travel costs for her team. The team is also reinforced with a vice-chair after executive director Hans-Petter Holen calculated that 163 days for meetings, travelling and communication was too heavy for a part-time commitment. The long-term impact of the suggested professionalisation of senior leadership remains to be seen.