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".
The Internet Society has its global headquarters in Reston, Virginia, United States (near Washington, D.C.), a major office in Geneva, Switzerland, and regional bureaus in Brussels, Singapore, and Montevideo. It has a global membership base of more than 100,000 organizational and individual members.
The Internet Society was formed officially in 1992 by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn with one of its purposes being to provide a corporate structure to support the Internet standards development process. Cerf, Kahn, and Lyman Chapin released a document, Announcing ISOC, which explained the rationale for establishing the Internet Society. This document also defines the original charter of the organization as follows:
The Society will be a non-profit organization and will be operated for international educational, charitable, and scientific purposes, among which are:
- To facilitate and support the technical evolution of the Internet as a research and education infrastructure and to stimulate involvement of the academic, scientific, and engineering communities (among others) in the evolution of the Internet.
- To educate the academic and scientific communities and the public concerning the technology, use, and application of the Internet.
- To promote scientific and educational applications of Internet technology for the benefit of educational institutions at all grade levels, industry, and the public at large.
- To provide a forum for exploration of new Internet applications and to foster collaboration among organizations in their operation and use of the Internet.
Many of the main forces of the Internet, such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), remain very informal organizations from a legal perspective. There was a growing need for financial support and organization structure. The Internet Society was incorporated as a non-profit educational organization which could provide that support structure, as well as promoting other activities that are important for the development of the Internet.
The Internet Society is the parent corporation of the IETF; as such all IETF Request for Comments documents, including those RFCs which describe "Internet Standards", are copyrighted by the Internet Society (although freely available to anyone, including non-members, at no charge). However, the Internet Society itself grew out of the IETF, to support those functions that require a corporate form rather than simply the ad hoc approach of the IETF. In reality, the Internet Society was formed because the IETF Secretariat, which had been operated under NSF contract by staff at the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI) would not be supported beyond 1991 by NSF. The then Internet Activities Board sought to create a non-profit institution that could provide financial support for the IETF Secretariat among other things. CNRI served as the first host for the Internet Society's operation.
In 2012, on ISOC's 20th anniversary, it established the Internet Hall of Fame, an annual award whose purpose is to "publicly recognize a distinguished and select group of visionaries, leaders and luminaries who have made significant contributions to the development and advancement of the global Internet".