Geneva, March 15 and 16, 2010. The first meeting of the IPv6 group of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) turned into a protracted and tedious confrontation between one government – Syria – and the combined weight of all the incumbent Internet institutions, the European Telecom Numbering Organization, equipment vendors and the governments of North America and Europe (plus Australia). Defenders of the IP addressing status quo showed up in force, and insisted repeatedly that there was no problem with the current system that justified any major changes in the addressing and routing system. The issue of the problems confronting IPv6 migration was subordinated completely to fears of ITU encroachment on the turf of the native Internet institutions. This made it difficult to have a serious discussion of the real issues confronting the depletion of the IPv4 address space, the consequent pressures to move to a new internet standard, and alternative address allocation mechanisms. Further, strong backing for an alternate system failed to materialize among ITU participants, and the one supporter of deep ITU involvement, the Syrian representative, displayed a lack of technical expertise by trying to link IPv6 addressing to the International Internet Connectivity issue.
The meeting did however succeed in creating two “Correspondence Groups,” which will function more or less openly as ways to carry on what we can only hope will be a more constructive dialogue. Correspondence Group 2, in particular, is chartered to:
1.Identify concerns and issues with the current IP address management system, in particular those highlighted by developing countries
2. Study the extent of impact of the identified concerns/issues on the developing countries.
3. Seek and identify solutions within the current IP address management system
The IPv6 Group was convened by the Director of ITU’s Telecommunications Standards Bureau, with the support of its Development Bureau Director of BDT and the support of the ITU Council in 2009. The TSB was hoping to use a report by University of Malaysia’s Sures Ramadass advocating a competing, parallel system of IP addressing organized around Countries to get the ITU more involved in Internet governance. Ramadass, who has courageously taken on the entire internet technical community, has asked, “Why should the RIRs be a territorial monopoly? The study by Ramadass and UMS does not actually explore this idea in any depth, but in his promotion of diversity in address allocation institutions he often says this. This is an intruiging idea that needs to be explored further. Ramadass has also promoted the idea of a parallel system of address allocation, in which the ITU would get a /12 block and subdelegate pieces of this to country internet registries (CIRs), one for each nation-state. This system would accomplish two things, according to its advocates: first, it would reserve a block of ipv6 addresses for each country, which would assuage developing countries fears that the address space might be used up before they can get a chance to use it; second, it would also create some kind of competition over allocation policy with the RIR system. Ramadass contends that his proposal would allow more responsive local policies to be discussed among local stakeholders in local language. I have spoken to Sures directly about the threat that CIRs would lead to “nationalization” or governmental control of address allocation. He recognizes that this is a problem but believes that it can be avoided if the CIRs are headed by local Internet service providers. I am not convinced; I fear that once you align address allocation with jurisdictional boundaries you push the Internet too far back into an intergovernmental model and create political pressures and leverage required to control it at the national level. In many authoritarian countries the ISPs are all state-owned and/or heavily regulated, and there may only be one of them.
In hallway discussions with ARIN’s John Curran, we agreed that the elephant in the room – which neither side discussed – was the impending depletion of the IPv4 address space. This will inevitably lead to trading and pricing of v4 addresses and possibly concentration of resources. But in the turf war in Geneva, that subject did not come up.