The ISP Column
An occasional column on things Internet
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Address Policies
April 2005

Geoff Huston

When does an experiment in networking technology become a public utility? Does it happen on a single date, or is it a more gradual process of incremental change? And at what point do you change that way in which resources are managed to admit a broader spectrum of public interests? And how are such interests to be expressed in the context of the network itself, in terms of the players, their motivation and the level of common interest in one network? While many may be of the view that this has already happened some years ago in the case of the Internet, when you take a global perspective many parts of the world are only recently coming to appreciate the significant role of the Internet in the broader context of enablers of national wealth.

I'd like to take one example here to illustrate the forms of issues that arise when public policy considerations of a national nature are added into a resource management debate.

It could well be that November 2005 is recorded one of the landmark months in the continuing story of the Internet. That month sees the culmination of some years of preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society, and it will be the time when a relatively complete set of national delegations will meet, consider and ultimately vote on a set of resolutions about the future structure of the global communications industry from the perspective of an international public policy perspective. Itís not the only show in town of course and a few weeks later the Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers will meet in Vancouver, and continue their endeavours in advising the government of the United States of America as to appropriate decisions regarding the carriage of the domain name system, protocol parameter assignment and the distribution of address resources, in the expectation that in the following year ICANN will assume a greater level of autonomy in undertaking this role.

In looking at the various perspectives that come to bear of these issues, the area of address distribution policy is certainly illustrative of the broader picture. So in this article I'd like to take a look at the ITU-T's proposal for introducing competition into the allocation of IP addresses through the proposed establishment of national IPv6 address registries. We will examine some of the assumptions about IP addresses that underlie the proposal and look at the significant issues that the proposal raises regarding Internet infrastructure and the related task of address resource management. It is certainly the case that the basic assumptions about the role of addresses in the Internet that underlie this proposal are very important ones to consider, as they tend to be consistent themes of many resources that form a public good. However, it is also the case that the proposal as it stands could trigger some unpalatable unintended outcomes for the Internet, and some likely unpalatable consequences for all of us as users of this rather unique public utility.

The Proposal

In November of 2004 a proposal has been made for the introduction of competition into the system of allocation of IP addresses.

The proposal has been made by Houlin Zhao of the ITU-T, and calls for the ITU-T to establish new IPv6 address registries in each nation, each of which would compete with the existing Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).

A summary of the essential elements of this proposal is:

Some Assumptions about Address Attributes

There are a number of underlying assumptions about the characteristics of IPv6 addresses that lie behind the ITU-T's proposal, and it is useful to enumerate these in broad terms.

Some Issues with the proposal

As it stands, the proposal raises some significant issues that appear to be counter to the experience gained to date in the deployment of Internet infrastructure and the related task of address resource management. While this is not a complete list, and does not represent an exhaustive analysis of each of these issues, the following is a summary of the most apparent areas where the proposal raises matters of concern.

Some Options to Respond

There are some options for consideration by a broader community of stakeholders related to this proposal. On the basis of a considerable body of experience gained in the task of address stewardship of Internet protocol addresses there are a number of ways in which the stakeholder communities could offer some form of contribution to the ITU-T and also to the World Summit for the Internet Society, wherein this ITU-T proposal may be considered.

It may be that the general perception of the benefits of this form of diversity of address distribution far outweigh the concerns here, in which case the appropriate option may be to encourage this proposal to move forward.
On the other hand, it may be that the general perception of the risks associated with this proposal are at such a level that the proposal, if implemented in any form, would unleash an irrevocable set of actions that would threaten the future viability of adoption of the IPv6 global network. In such a case it would be responsible to disagree strongly with the proposal and highlight the basis upon which such disagreement is based.
Another option is to "discuss". If there is a perception of some degree of validity in the set of assumptions relating to attributes of addresses, and in the related proposition that national interests are an integral component of this environment, then further discussion would be an appropriate course of action. In such a scenario there may be value in an exploration of mechanisms that could accommodate the underlying perspectives and mitigate, or even eliminate, the set of concerns associated with the current ITU-T proposal.

Much time, effort, money and hope has been invested in the World Summit on the Information Society over the past several years. It is reasonable to predict that there will be a number of resolutions passed at this summit, and little doubt that some of these resolutions will take stances that are at some variance with the current structure. Whether we will be capable of achieving a wise and sustaining balance between these public sector interests and the strictures of common constraint that enable cost effective technology to be deployed efficiently in a public utility mode is just one of those areas where we will probably need to wait to find out.




Geoff Huston
April 2005


The above views do not necessarily represent the views or positions of the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre

About the Author

GEOFF HUSTON holds a B.Sc. and a M.Sc. from the Australian National University. He has been closely involved with the development of the Internet for the past decade, particularly within Australia, where he was responsible for the initial build of the Internet within the Australian academic and research sector. He is author of a number of Internet-related books. He is the Senior Internet Research Scientist at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, the Regional Internet Registry serving the Asia Pacific region.


The views expressed are the author’s and not those of APNIC, unless APNIC is specifically identified as the author of the communication. APNIC will not be legally responsible in contract, tort or otherwise for any statement made in this publication.

About the Author

GEOFF HUSTON B.Sc., M.Sc., has been closely involved with the development of the Internet for many years, particularly within Australia, where he was responsible for the initial build of the Internet within the Australian academic and research sector. He is author of a number of Internet-related books, and has been active in the Internet Engineering Task Force for many years.