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

by on March 29, 2013 · 4 comments

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.

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