On March 15 and 16 the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) holds a meeting in Geneva focused on internet protocol version 6 addressing policy. One of the focal points of this meeting will be a paper I wrote for the ITU exploring the economics of IPv6 addressing, “Economic Factors in the Allocation of IPv6 Addresses.” The paper put forward the idea of a Transferable Address Block Lease (TABL). This would be a set of address blocks, ranging from /48s to /32s in size, that would be allocated on a provider-independent basis to anyone willing to pay a recurring annual fee based on the size of the block. There would be no “needs assessment,” just a fee.
The TABL proposal was designed as a cautious experiment. The report proposed that only a fixed, relatively small part of the v6 address space would be devoted to TABLs: a /16 should be set aside for this purpose. The rest of the space would be assigned and allocated in the normal way, based on what the RIRs call “needs assessments” (and what political economists would be more likely to call “Soviet-style central planning”). Within this range TABL block leases would be transferable; i.e., in the unlikely event scarcity developed their holders could sell the block as a whole to others or buy more of them in a secondary market. But they could not be de-aggregated for resale in smaller chunks. Of course, portions of them could be subleased or assigned to end users just as ISPs currently do with their assigned blocks.
Since the study was released last fall, it has gotten caught up in the longstanding battle between the Regional Internet Address Registries (RIRs) and the ITU. That is, a few within the RIR camp have criticized the study, not because they have actually read it and have a coherent critique of its proposals, but simply because it was commissioned by the ITU. Similarly, there are those in the pro-ITU camp who have assumed that because the report was commissioned by the ITU, critically assesses the RIRs’ IP address policies and proposes reforms that it somehow favors a greater role for nation-states in IP addressing.
As we explained in an earlier blog, there is an historical rivalry between the RIR/ICANN regime and the ITU, one that frequently manifests itself in debates over control of critical internet resources. Policy debates about the proper economic incentives to apply to the ipv6 address space to encourage appropriate levels of utilization, route aggregation, conservation and reclamation needs to transcend this institutional animosity. What matters to the public is the efficiency and flexibility of ip address allocation. Public dialogue about addressing policy, in other words, needs to focus on actual policies and their effects on users and suppliers –not on the organizational ambitions and paranoias of existing institutions. The more large institutional players try to polarize the discourse around “us” vs. “them” scenarios, the harder it is to have intelligent discussions on these topics.
That being said, the more tenaciously the RIRs resist needed economic reforms in their approach to ip addressing, the wider they open the door to alternative institutions willing to promote innovative policies.
Unfortunately the materials for this meeting, including the report, are hiding behind the ITU’s TIES interface. Unless you are a member you can’t gain access to them. An academic paper based on the report, however, will be accessible soon.