With so many moving parts to advancing Internet access and enabling communities to reach the rest of the world, the biggest key to success, according to this year’s Jonathan B. Postel Award winner, is listening.
Steven Huter listens. He says it’s his most important job. The Director for the Network Startup Resource Center (NSRC) and a Research Associate at the University of Oregon says before configuring community networks and setting Internet development goals, his organization has to make sure they are solving the right problems.
“Listening first to what local Internet developers request and desire in terms of assistance, based on their respective conditions and challenges, is vital for a successful outcome,” Huter says.
Only half the people in the world have Internet access, and the NSRC works on creating “a sustainable community of Internet-savvy engineers and local operators that can enable continuous progress in their countries to bring more affordable Internet access and better network performance for their respective communities.”
Essentially, they go to areas in need, help set up the hardware and digital necessities for Internet access, and train local operators and system workers to handle that network independently. And Huter has been an integral part of this process, not only through his technical prowess, but through his communication skills and devotion to others.
“Steve has grown this program dramatically over the period of his stewardship,” said Vint Cerf, former classmate of Jon Postel, and associate of Huter’s. “He’s made connections friends and admirers literally all over the world. And the people he’s trained have often ended up in very high up positions in communications and networks.”
The NSRC provides technical information, engineering assistance, training, donations of networking books, equipment, and other resources to indigenous scientists, engineers, and educators. They work with universities first and the advances slowly work their way into the private sector. It’s takes more than know-how; it takes charisma.
Cerf is known as one of the fathers of the Internet, and he says Huter brings personality to the industry in a way many can’t.
“Steve’s personal commitment to this role and his perspective—which is that the people he comes to help—are the most important part of the equation,” Cerf said. “He comes with a very humble attitude which gives enormous respect to the people he is helping.”
To date, the NSRC has facilitated more than 650 tons of network equipment and technical reference books to engineering and computer science departments, university libraries, non-governmental organizations, and networking training facilities in more than 120 countries in the world.
“The main objective is to build a community of network operators who help each other with exchanges of knowledge, technical skills, and local hands cultivating local expertise,” Huter says.
“I help glue together a core NSRC team at the University of Oregon with dozens of international contractors and volunteers based in many different countries to scale the work globally and enable continuous progress in all regions of the world.”
Adept in numerous languages, gracious, kind, and giving of his time and resources, his associate and ICANN chair Steve Crocker says that the award is truly deserved.
“I think it’s fantastic that he won this award. I’ve known him for quite some time, and I’ve been impressed with his unique combination of being technically very competent, having a multicultural background, and easily bridging gaps between several cultures,” Crocker said. “He’s just a decent human being. He enjoys the process and does it around the globe.”
And as more of the structural components are laid down, Huter is moving toward helping on other levels, too.
“I am interested in thinking beyond building core networks to how we can collectively make good use of new technologies,” Huter said. “By engaging the Internet’s technical wizards to help government agencies understand that they are positioned to improve the lives of their citizenry if they embrace the future and reshape government policies rather than put up obstacles, there is a lot good work we can do in the coming years.”
This award is given not just for prowess, but for selflessness, for putting others above yourself.
“A lot of people get awards for doing great things, but often the truly good guys get left in the shadows,” Crocker said. “This award is focused on bringing those people out of the shadows, so people who know Steve and the work he’s been doing will say that’s a great choice.”
Huter was acquainted with Postel, making the award mean even more.
“Jon Postel inspired me and many others by his dedication, persistence, awesome work ethic, and thoughtful style of leadership. I particularly enjoyed conversations with Jon about hiking in the mountains and enjoying the wonders of nature, so will gratefully accept this opportunity as a reminder to get out and enjoy more time with family and friends in his honor.”
Photo ©Stonehouse Photographic / Internet Society