An important proposal for inter-regional market transfers of IP addresses has been put before RIPE-NCC, the Internet protocol address registry for the European region. The proposal notes that “there is a significant over-supply of IPv4 in North America versus the rest of the world,” and that “in a global economy, membership in any particular RIR should not be a barrier to acquiring IPv4 Addresses when the source is not within the same RIR region.”
The proposal attaches four basic conditions to inter-regional transfers of address resources:
1. The IPv4 addresses will be used for business purposes and will not be sold within 15 months.
2. The IPv4 addresses will be used to meet current and future operational requirements.
3. The IPv4 addresses will be used in conformance with all provisions of EU Directive 2002/58 Article 13 (Anti-Spam).
4. Where the recipient is in another region, the conditions on the recipient as defined in the counterpart RIR’s transfer policy at the time of the transfer will apply.
The last condition shows how much this policy problem starts looking like a classic trade issue. Think of the region where the seller of the IP address block is registered as the “exporter” and the region where the buyer is located as the “importer.” Members of ARIN, where most of the surplus IPv4 is, would benefit by restricting other North American members from exporting IPv4 address blocks to the Asia-Pacific region or Europe because it would lower the price and increase the supply of v4 blocks available in their own region. By knocking out buyer competition from other world regions, buyers in the ARIN region would benefit from a form of protectionism. Also, ARIN as an organization has an incentive to play the protectionist game. By controlling conditions on inter-regional transfers, ARIN maintains exclusivity over the terms and conditions of a large part of the available IPv4 blocks.
So it is a mistake to give the exporting region the power to define the conditions determining who can or cannot receive exported blocks in other regions. What we need is a globally harmonized IPv4 trading policy, one that imposes uniform conditions on all buyers and sellers in all regions. Yet the regionally fragmented RIR system is probably incapable of passing such a policy. As I have argued in a recent paper, the conflicts of interest among the regional organizations and the members in different regions create huge barriers to the kinds of globalized reforms in IP address policy that are needed now.
The fate of the RIPE-NCC interregional transfer proposal (2012-01), therefore, is very much worth watching. If it fails to get anywhere, it confirms the hypothesis that the RIRs are structurally incapable of adapting to the new world of IPv4 scarcity and IPv6 migration.