How ARIN and U.S. Commerce Department were duped by the ITU

ARIN is the Internet numbers registry for the North American region. It likes to present itself as a paragon of multistakeholder governance and a staunch opponent of the International Telecommunication Union’s encroachments into Internet governance. Surely, if anyone wants to keep the ITU out of Internet addressing and routing policy, it would be ARIN. And conversely, in past years the ITU has sought to carve away some of the authority over IP addressing from ARIN and other RIRs.

But wait, what is this? March 15 the ITU Secretary-General released a preparatory report for the ITU’s World Telecommunications Policy Forum, which will take place in Geneva May 14-16. The report contains 6 Internet-related policy resolutions “to provide a basis for discussion …focusing on key issues on which it would be desirable to reach conclusions.” Draft Opinion #3 pertains to Internet addressing. Among other things, the draft resolves:

  • “that needs-based address allocation should continue to underpin IP address allocation, irrespective of whether they are IPv6 or IPv4, and in the case of IPv4, irrespective of whether they are legacy or allocated address space;
  • “that all IPv4 transactions be reported to the relevant RIRs, including transactions of legacy addresses that are not necessarily subject to the policies of the RIRs regarding transfers, as supported by the policies developed by the RIR communities;”
  • “that policies of inter-RIR transfer across all RIRs should ensure that such transfers are needs based and be common to all RIRs irrespective of the address space concerned.”

These policy positions thrust the ITU and its intergovernmental machinery directly into the realm of IP addressing policy. But that is quite predictable; the ITU has always wanted to do that. What is unusual about these resolutions is that they bear an uncanny resemblance to the policy positions currently advocated by ARIN and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In other words, far from challenging the authority of the RIRs, as it used to do, the ITU now seems to be supinely issuing policy positions that reflect the interests of the RIRs. And after checking with sources who were at the meetings where these draft opinions were created, I confirmed that it was indeed ARIN staff, other RIRs and U.S. Commerce Department representatives who pushed for these positions. Indeed, some sources complained that the whole discussion was completely dominated by RIRs and the U.S.; hardly anyone else was participating.

This is a rather significant turn of events. If nothing else, it makes you think twice about the claims coming out of Dubai that the Internet’s organic multistakeholder institutions were locked in a to-the-death struggle with the forces of repression and authoritarianism in the ITU.

Why did this happen?

As we have noted in earlier blogs, ARIN’s staff and board cling to needs-based address allocations because it gives them control, and they want to retain policy authority over legacy address block holders – because it gives them control. Yet its authority over legacy holders is questionable, to say the least. Legacy block holders not only have no contract with ARIN, they received their number blocks before ARIN existed. Many of them would like to be able to sell numbers to any buyer, regardless of ARIN approvals or needs assessments. ARIN’s current leadership just can’t bring itself to accept this.

Apparently, ARIN is so desperate to validate its shaky claim of authority over legacy address space that it will go to any lengths to find support for it – including inserting its policy preferences into an ITU resolution.

What the geniuses at Commerce and ARIN do not seem to understand is that by getting ITU to be its sock puppet, they are also legitimizing the notion that the ITU and its collection of governments have a legitimate role to play in making and enforcing IP address policy. And yet there is a nice bargain here: ARIN uses the ITU process to validate its position; ITU validates it process by having it used by ARIN.

It is clear that the ITU no longer cares much what the substantive policy is, it just wants to be recognized as a platform for global internet policy. Indeed, it is ironic that just as the more enlightened sections of the Internet technical community are starting to question or openly reject needs assessment, the ITU is just starting to embrace it. Insert your favorite joke about regulatory dinosaurs here: by the time the ITU starts endorsing the conventional wisdom, it’s probably no longer wisdom.


4 comments

  1. John Curran

    Milton –

    You might want to go back and check with your sources, because while ARIN (and other RIRs) were present for the discussion, the origin of positions in the draft report were not the RIRs but submissions from various ITU participants. While ARIN serves as a resource to those interested in number resource policy at such forums and certainly do participate when then arise, we have made clear that our preference is that discussions of it take place within the existing ICANN/RIR system.

    Thanks,
    /John

    John Curran
    President and CEO
    ARIN

  2. Bill Smith

    Milton,

    I was present for all the discussions the IEG held on this topic and have a very different view of what transpired in Geneva. As John Curran has noted, the origin of the Draft Opinion you reference was other than Commerce or the RIRs. That is in complete alignment with my recollection as well.

    Once introduced, each of the Draft Opinions were discussed with an objective of developing consensus text on Draft Opinions. As I recall, there was considerable discussion on this Opinion over a number of days. The participant list was considerably larger than Commerce and the RIRs and included other nations and members of the Internet Community. The result of these lengthy discussions is the consensus text you see in the Secretary General’s Report. It is my understanding, that the text represents a reasonable facsimile of current policy and I find neither surprise or ill intent or effect in that.

    Of course, it is possible that this is a conspiratorial plot by the RIRs to maintain their control of address allocation and they have adopted the ways of Machiavelli to ensure that. By partnering with the entity that clearly wishes to wrest control of these addresses from them, the RIRs hope to not only eliminate that threat but obtain nation state support for their obviously flawed policies.

    Another explanation would be that faced with the prospect of an Opinion seeking to yet again rehash the v4 v6 ITU debate, Commerce, the RIRs, and many others chose to defend the Internet as we know it. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide between those choices.

    Best,

    Bill Smith

    • Milton Mueller

      Bill and John:
      So, you would have us believe that through some mysterious process, a draft ITU opinion upheld a policy position that happens to correspond exactly to the one being pushed by some RIRs and specifically ARIN at this point?
      The evolution of the draft opinion on IPv6 and IPv4 is fairly well documented. Many of these opinions and ideas that found their way into these draft opinions had their origin in the IPv6 working group. I participated in some of the early meetings of that group and can vouch that their deliberations were heavily weighted toward participants from the RIRs, Cisco and other Western firms.

      The input documents to the Informal Experts Group (IEG) that produced the draft opinions are posted and available here: http://www.itu.int/en/wtpf-13/Pages/ieg.aspx To make a long story short, it appears that Saudi Arabia produced the original draft opinion. Their draft said nothing about needs assessment, but it did say that “a growing market has developed in the transfer of IPv4 addresses between entities and that the overwhelming proportion of transferred addresses are from legacy allocations which are not subject to the policies of the RIRs.” So there was a possibility that the ITU would have come out with a draft opinion that explicitly recognized your lack of authority over legacy addresses. However, due to RIR lobbying (and let me note here there is a bit of a revolving door between ARIN and the NTIA and the Internet Society) the US and UK governments came to your rescue with counter-proposals. These counter proposals, which can be found here (UK) and here (US), inserted the language about needs assessment as it now stands in the final draft opinion for the WTPF.

      An additional note: the Saudi proposal, as can be expected from one of the lead advocates of state-centered Internet governance, called upon “the ITU to develop policies which will manage the transfer of IPv4 addresses,” whereas the final draft opinion does not contain this language.

      So while this draft resolution does not call for expanding the ITU’s role, it keeps the ITU involved in making policy pronouncements about the allocation of IP addresses. I do not think it is unfair to point out that despite all the WCIT-related feigned horror at ITU involvement in IG, the RIRs seem to be perfectly happy with this as long as the policy pronouncements uphold their institutional interests. As for the UK and US governments, as is sadly typical of their interventions in Internet governance, they seem to have no clue about the merits of the issues they are taking positions on, but simply respond to the largest and strongest special interest lobbying group that spends time with them, which in this case seems to be ARIN and related interests.

  3. John Curran

    Milton –

    As noted before, ARIN believes that open forums (such as the Internet Governance Forum, ICANN, and the Regional Internet Registries) are the most appropriate venues for discussions of Internet address policy, but if there are other groups engaging in such discussions, ARIN will make itself available as a resource to explain the policies that have been developed by our community. Our community expects us to perform outreach with respect to these policies, and make sure that they are utilized in the management of number resources; that is, after all, the expected output of community-based Internet self-governance.

    Thanks!
    /John

    John Curran
    President and CEO
    ARIN