All-expense-paid trips are being offered to help ensure that technologists in developing countries have a say in shaping the Internet's architecture for years to come.
Technical standards before the Internet Engineering Task Force govern e-mail formatting, foreign-language character sets and other Internet basics to ensure that people around the world can communicate with one another through their Internet-connected computers.
Standards can make or break companies — an African business, for instance, might suddenly find its products shunned should they suddenly be incompatible with offerings from industrialized nations. Lack of progress has affected the ability for instant-messaging programs to talk with one another and for Web addresses to use non-English characters.
But because Americans and Europeans got to the Internet first, engineers elsewhere have complained they haven't had enough say in some of the Internet's fundamental decisions.
To encourage greater participation from developing countries, where Internet usage is growing, the nonprofit Internet Society is offering grants for up to five people to attend each Internet Engineering Task Force meeting. Covered expenses include meeting registration, airfare and hotels.
Each recipient will also be paired with an IETF veteran to serve as a mentor.
"There are many talented individuals in developing regions that have an interest in and follow the IETF's work and would benefit from the opportunity to participate in person," Lynn St. Amour, the Internet Society's chief executive, said in a statement.
The next IETF meetings are scheduled for March in Prague, the Czech Republic, and for July in Chicago. Applications for both are due Feb. 2.
The Internet Society is paying for the program through corporate sponsorships, the initial money coming from Internet search company Google Inc.