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IAB Workshop on Barriers to Internet Access of Services (BIAS)

5 Mar 2024

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) organizes workshops about topics of interest to the community that bring diverse experts together, raise awareness, and possibly identify the next steps that can be explored by the community. The IAB held its “Barriers for Internet Access of Services (Bias)” fully online workshop during the week of January 15, 2024.

The Internet is a crucial component of our critical infrastructure that wields a significant influence on various aspects of society. It serves as a vital tool for advancing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and upholding human rights on a global scale. Thus the absence of meaningful access to digital infrastructure and services amounts to a form of disenfranchisement. The barriers to meaningful access to Internet-based services and applications are increasing, posing challenges that persist even when Internet connectivity is available, thereby resulting in unequal information and service access.

The workshop solicited position papers about barriers to accessing content and services on the Internet, e.g. based on filtering, blocking as well as due to general inequality of technological capabilities, like device or protocol limitations. 19 position papers were submitted to the workshop of which 12 papers were selected for publication. Two invited talks were also presented based on published papers. There were 40 participants in the workshop over three days. 

This marked my first IAB workshop since joining the board. I am delighted to have collaborated with Mirja Kühlewind, Mallory Knodel, Tommy Pauly, and Christopher A. Wood in organizing this event. The themes of censorship, circumvention techniques, and the digital divide have surfaced in various IAB discussions lately. Our goal for this workshop was to present reports, expert opinions, and ignite discussions on these topics. Through this experience, I gained valuable insights and strongly believe that the IETF community must remain mindful of these crucial issues when designing protocols. It is imperative to ensure that we create the most secure, user-friendly protocols for all Internet users.

This blog post provides a short overview of the workshop discussion. However, if you would like to learn more you can also check out the just-released initial draft version of the IAB workshop report, or watch the entire thing on YouTube. The workshop was organized into three main themes across three days based on the submitted papers. 

Community Networks

Community Networks are self-organized networks which are wholly owned by the community and thus provide an alternative mechanism to bring connectivity and Internet services to those places that lack commercial interest. Discussion ranged from highlighting the need for measuring Quality of Experience (QoE) for Community Networks, to the potential role a Content Delivery Network (CDN) can play in Community Networks, to the role of satellite networks, and finally, to the vital role of the spectrum in this space.

Digital Divide

The digital divide refers to disparities in access to the Internet and services. It signifies the gap between those who have effective and meaningful access to digital technologies and those who do not.  Discussion recognized three key aspects of the digital divide: differences between population demographics in the provision of online resources by governments, inequality in the use of multilingual domains and email addresses, and increased costs for end-user downloads of contemporary websites' sizes. There was a general recognition that there may be more technical aspects of the digital divide that were not presented. 


Censorship is the legal control or suppression of what can be accessed, published, or viewed on the Internet. This discussion focused on reports of censorship as observed during recent years in different parts of the world, as well as on the use of and expectation for censorship circumvention tools, mainly the use of secure VPN services. This included censorship reports from India and Russia, where censorship has changed significantly recently, highlighting the legal frameworks and court acts that put obligations on regional network providers to block traffic. Further, measurements to validate the blocking, as well as analyses of how blocking is implemented were also discussed.

Next Steps

The discussion highlighted the need for the technical community to address the management gaps and document best practices for Community Networks including listing of manageability considerations explicitly for Community Networks. Further, the need to build consensus on solutions that have the most significant impact in fostering digital inclusion and the need to further promote them was discussed. We need to continue to work towards enhancing our protocols ensuring user privacy, develop further protocols that enable more transparency on filtering and new VPN-like services. Further discussion of these topics could happen in the Global Access to the Internet for All (GAIA), Human Rights Protocol Considerations (HRPC), Privacy Enhancements and Assessments (PEARG), and Measurement and Analysis for Protocols (MAPRG) research groups, based on the relevance to each group.

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