IPv4 Historical Imbalances and the Threat to IPv6

It is an open secret that the current state of IPv4 allocation contains many accidental historical imbalances and in particular developing countries who wish to use IPv4 are disadvantaged by the lack of addresses available through ordinary allocation and are forced into purchasing addresses on the open market. As most of the addresses for sale are held by organisations based in the developed world, this amounts to a transfer of wealth from the developing world to the developed world, on terms set by the developed world.

It has long been argued that this problem will be short-lived or would be avoided altogether by the switch to IPv6 which does not have any problem of scarcity. The same argument continues that this imminent switch to IPv6 removes any need to address the historical imbalances of IPv4 allocation as IPv4 will cease to be of any importance quite soon.

This argument never felt sound and seemed to me to ignore the perception issue that it creates, which is that those responsible for IP allocation policies, largely based in the developed world, don't care about imbalances that are disadvantageous to the developing world and so can't be trusted to stop this happening again.

Of course anyone who understands IPv6 allocation policies knows that these have learnt a lot from the accidents of history that created the current imbalances in IPv4 and are very different policies. So when challenged on the perception issue, those who argue against correcting the historical imbalances point to the IPv6 allocation policies and politely explain that those imbalances won't happen again.

But there is now strong evidence out there that this perception that the IPv6 allocation policies will not be fair, is strongly held and will not be shifted by any amount of polite explanation of how the IPv6 policies differ from the IPv4 policies that led to the imbalances. Top of this list to my mind is proposition 100 (prop-100), a policy proposal in the APNIC RIR that requests the reservation of a /16 block of IPv6 addresses for India and similar reservations for all other countries in the region, from which any allocations to an LIR from that country will be provisioned.

The explicit reason given for prop-100 is:

"The main objective of this proposal is to ensure that all economies (and the different present and future organizations in those economies) can ensure they will get a suitable share of the IPv6 address space, in one or more large contiguous blocks, whether they need it now or at a later date."

It might look like the focus here is on contiguous blocks, but discussions with the author have made it quite clear that it isn't about this, the real concern is:

"planned usage of the IPv6 address space with assurance that every economy will have some address space reserved for it whether it needs now or in the future."

No amount of reasoned explanation that the IPv6 allocation policies will not lead to scarcity that disadvantages some economies, is affecting the views of the authors, nor is any amount of simple mathematics showing just how vast the IPv6 space is and just how small a percentage has been allocated so far. Nor is any amount of rational argument ever going to work so long as the accidental historical imbalances of IPv4 are ignored. Note, I didn't say "corrected", I said "ignored" as this is about perception and trust more than anything else.

So here we are, approaching the worst possible position where our well considered IPv6 allocation policies are untrusted and undermined because of the complete disregard for the historical imbalances of IPv4, when that has nothing to do with IPv6. Rather the IPv6 taking away the problems of those imbalances, those imbalances are now close to seriously disrupting IPv6.

If this proposal for contiguous national blocks sounds familiar then that's because it is telephone numbering all over again. The ITU-T, that dying anachronism, is struggling to reinvent itself in the Internet age and has latched onto IPv6 allocations as a lifeline. The ITU-T IPv6 Group has stated aims almost identical to that of prop-100:

"To draft a global policy proposal for the reservation of a large IPv6 block, taking into consideration the future needs of developing countries ..."

"To further study possible methodologies and related implementation mechanisms to ensure 'equitable access' to IPv6 resource by countries."

The ITU has been touting this nonsense around developing countries and gaining traction using, yes you guessed it, the historical IPv4 imbalances as evidence that they need to step in to ensure fairness in IPv6.

It should be clear by now that the accidental historical imbalances of IPv4 cannot continue to be ignored as this is actually making the situation worse. A very public global policy process needs to begin to tackle these imbalances. In particular, since the biggest issues are with pre-RIR allocations made directly by IANA, it needs to be the Address Supporting Organisation (ASO) of ICANN that initiates this policy process. Those companies that hold large allocations, such as the /8s out there, should be required to demonstrate need as determined by an RIR policy and receive an appropriate number of addresses for that need.

The question I most often get asked is how do we bring the address holders to the table since they are under no obligation to do so? My answer has been the same for years — if they don't follow this policy process then they don't get RPKI and they get shut out of the global routing tables.

I've heard it said that this won't work because RPKI will never be that authoritative, but I'm convinced the push to secure the Internet will make it authoritative fairly quickly. The other argument I've heard against this solution is that RIRs should not be regulators and deny RPKI for policy infringements. Well, if the RIRs don't regulate then either governments or their proxy of the ITU-T will and that is going to be far more damaging to the Internet than the bruises caused by the RIRs stepping up and taking responsibility.

Even if this is not the solution, something still has to be done. This is no longer an historical issue, this is now a struggle for the future that IPv6 represents.

Written by Jay Daley, Chief Executive of .nz Registry Services