The Problem

Since the turn of the 21st century, the Internet and the software that enables it have become increasingly critical infrastructure for our civilization, analogous to (and in some ways replacing) the roads, bridges, cables, and canals of earlier eras. Maintainance of this infrastructure is a public good which, like other public goods, has tended to be chronically underfunded.

Corporate and venture-capital funding is efficient but prone to short-termism and not available without a profit opportunity and a business plan - prospective gains need to be financially concentrated. Government funding is highly inefficient, suffers from bureaucratic inertia, and is prone to short-termism of a different kind - gains need to be politically concentrated (rare and honorable exceptions like DARPA only throw these limitations into sharper relief).

This situation...incurs high costs in missed opportunities. It burns out skilled volunteers, and exposes our civilization to technological risks that could be greatly reduced...

Today, critical Internet work building a future for the most vibrant sectors of the world economy is being done by people who have to couch-surf and live on ramen noodles because the benefits of their enormously valuable labor are too diffuse to give any government or corporation a funding incentive. Remediation efforts for serious, ongoing infrastructure problems are starved for funding. Many of the researchers, expert engineers and Internet veterans who would be most effectively deployed against these problems can only afford to work them on nights and weekends.

This situation is wasteful of human capital, and incurs high costs in missed opportunities. It burns out skilled volunteers, and exposes our civilization to technological risks that could be greatly reduced if the technical cadre best qualified to foresee and mitigate them had the time and freedom to concentrate on that job.

The Internet Civil Engineering Institute is a low-overhead, high-leverage organization focused on directing fellowships, grants, and stipends to people doing critical digital-infrastructure work. Equipment is comparatively inexpensive and buildings are unnecessary; our premise is that human time and attention - especially from people with a history of service and first-responder excellence in solving infrastructure problems - is the truly scarce resource.

We believe freeing and supporting the best-qualified of these people to solve infrastructure problems (ideally, before they become acute) will prove to have been an extremely wise investment for everyone who relies on the Internet and the software around it. Which, today, is everybody - but the connection is clearest for those corporations and individuals who have made fortunes riding this infrastructure and whose continuing success depends on it.

ICEI's bottom-line purpose is to fund and organize civil engineering on the whole Internet infrastructure.