US Senate Plays Game of 22 questions with NTIA

A powerful Senator is starting to ask NTIA questions about IP addressing.

On October 4, 2011, The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee's chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, sent a challenging but private letter to the administration official responsible for overseeing ICANN, Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and head of NTIA. IGP has obtained a copy of the letter through the US Freedom of Information Act. The letter, which poses 22 tough questions about IANA, focuses not on the old controversies related to new gTLDs, but on the IANA contract. A great deal of the letter concerns IP addressing issues in particular.

What makes this letter remarkable is that the questions are intelligent and interesting ones. They are not, unlike most previous Congressional incursions into ICANN-related affairs, an obvious product of lobbying by a special interest group (usually, trademark interests), trying to use Congress to pressure ICANN policy making. They are questions that a lot of people, on any side of the policy issues surrounding ICANN and its relationship to the NTIA, might want answered.

Questions like this: if the NTIA has “no plans” to transition control of the IANA to the private sector, as it said it would do in the 1998 White Paper, then shouldn't NTIA “explain the rationale for this policy?” (Question 14). And while NTIA is at it, wouldn't it be nice if they would “describe the conditions where the Department of Commerce would deny changes or modifications of the DNS root zone file” that were submitted to them by ICANN, and “cite occurrences when this has happened” (Question 15). Fascinating stuff. We can't wait to see the answers.

Just as the NTIA is responsible for managing and keeping track of US government use of radio frequencies, so it seems to have the same role for the US Government's use of IPv4 address blocks. But its activities in this space are quite murky. So the first 6 questions of the Rockefeller letter start shining the light on what IPv4 address resources US government agencies hold, the procedures for moving address blocks around, and the NTIA's role in developing policy for this.

Chairman Rockefeller seems particularly interested in the use of IP addressing blocks by US government agencies and the Defense Department in particular. He asks for a description of NTIA's role in negotiating a December 13, 2006 Registration Services Agreement between ARIN and the U.S. Department of Defense. From the wording of the questions, it is difficult to tell whether Rockefeller is interested in preventing address blocks from being taken away from US agencies, or whether he would like to see large chunks of the IPv4 address space re-claimed from them so that they can be auctioned off to make them available more readily to private sector actors while alleviating the federal budget deficit.

Another interesting question asks the NTIA to describe any stakeholders, both in the private sector and among US government agencies, that might oppose making the transition to IPv6.

One seemingly obscure question contains a potential bombshell. Question #7 asks NTIA to clarify whether the existing IANA contract allows ICANN to distribute IPv4 number blocks in units smaller than a /8 (large blocks of 16.7 million addresses). It also asks NTIA to determine whether ICANN “has or is currently distributing [IP address blocks] in units smaller than /8 to regional Internet registries.” This question is very significant because a large set of unallocated IPv4 addresses are held by the IANA in fragments smaller than /8s, and while the IANA seems to have started giving them out to RIRs, the wording of the current IANA contract seems to suggest that IANA is not permitted to do so.

The letter also asks NTIA to document the number of IPv4 address blocks transfers (market sales) that have been approved by the RIRs. Given the importance of the emerging market for IPv4 addresses, and the RIRs' lack of transparency in reporting these sales, this would be welcome information.

The NTIA was also asked some interesting questions about DNS. Chairman Rockefeller asked about the earlier draft of the IANA contact that required the contractor (i.e., ICANN) to “document that each individual generic top level domain addition be 'supported by the global public interest.'” Although that wording is no longer in the posted IANA contract, Question 16 is still relevant: “Explain what evaluative criteria a contractor should consider to determine whether a gTLD is supported by the global public interest.” As we explained in our 16 November blog post it is not helpful to base important decisions about global infrastructure on such a vague standard as the public interest, so it is healthy to put NTIA on the spot to explain what that term means to them.

IGP will seek out the answers to these questions. As a matter of public policy and transparency, NTIA should make their answers public, but if they don't we will find a way to get them to you.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous

    “This question is very significant because a large set of unallocated IPv4 addresses are held by the IANA in fragments smaller than /8s, …”

    Err. Not “held by the IANA”. IANA policy is (and has been for some time) to allocate /8s (well, with the exception of stuff specified by the IETF). The addresses in the 'large set” of “fragments” (presumably the blocks labeled “Various Registries” in previous incarnations of the IANA IPv4 address registry) weren't /8s, so they weren't in IANA's bailiwick — they had already been handed down to (what would become) the regional registry system for “routine allocation” long before the existence of ICANN.

    While I've largely given up following the machinations of the RIRs, my understanding is that there is (and has been) some discussion about what IANA should do if somebody returns IPv4 addresses to IANA since policy currently dictates IANA can't do anything with them until a /8 is accumulated (whether or not the /8 has to be contiguous is left to the reader as an exercise). I'll admit some skepticism that this policy (if it ever gets through all 5 RIRs) will ever get exercised.

    Whether this is 'very significant' probably depends on your point of view.

  2. Anonymous

    The letter also asks NTIA to document the number of IPv4 address blocks transfers (market sales) that have been approved by the RIRs. Given the importance of the emerging market for IPv4 addresses, and the RIRs' lack of transparency in reporting these sales, this would be welcome information.

    Mr. Mueller –

    I'm not certain what “lack of transparency” you refer to, but with respect to ARIN, the list of all approved transfers is updated monthly on the ARIN web site, under statistics:

    https://www.arin.net/knowledge/statistics/transfers_8_3.html

    FYI,

    /John

    John Curran

    President and CEO

    ARIN