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What Digital Divide on IP Addresses?

I took an instant dislike to The Digital Divide on IP Addresses post for some reason, well for many reasons actually.

First and foremost is that the implication that the “digital divide” is somehow caused by IP address allocation policies. While it is certainly true that there are “digital divides” between developed and developing parts of the world, the historical imbalance in IP addressing is not one of them. The fact is that while we will “run out” of IPv4 addresses at some point in the not too distant future, there are an unimaginably large number of IPv6 addresses available. In fact, here in Africa, where the “digital divides” are perhaps most apparent, we will have IPv4 addresses available long after the EU and US pools are drained of IP blocks, because we have a slower “burn rate” than developed regions, and each region will receive an equal allocation of the final IPv4 address space.

The article seems to be premised on the notion that IP addresses should somehow be uniformly distributed on a per country basis. This would be possible if countries actually used IP addresses, but they don’t. Network interfaces require an IP address, not people, and not countries. Since there were more interfaces in the USA and in the EU in the early days of Internetworking, it is only logical that organisations building networks got the resources they did, as Internet resources are distributed on an as needed/first-come, first-served basis.

The notion of “wasteful pre-CIDR address allocations” that the article talks about is also not helpful when talking about “legacy allocations”. In the early days, if you needed more than 256 numbers, you got 65536. If you needed more than that, you got 16 million, as there were only 3 sizes of allocations in that era. Some of those blocks have been returned already, but even if they were all returned, they would only give us a few months reprieve before IPv4 exhaustion. Now certainly, some of the largest blocks will never be completely used, but that is true of nearly all IP address blocks. The hierarchical nature of address assignments means that it is rare when a block is 100% used. Some of the legacy /8s (16 Million IPs) are actually being used at a greater utilization rate than current policies require, so “wasteful” is only in the eye of the beholder.

The author even points out that “If we would distribute IPv4 addresses uniformly over the world population, there would be less than 1 address per person.”, which negates his “IPs per capita” argument somewhat.

I guess what is most annoying about the post is that it gives the wrong impression about IP address allocation scarcity. If you want to count IPs per person, then you must include IPv6. If you do that, you get a very large number (4.98638388 × ten to the 28th) of IPs per capita. This is a ridiculously large amount of IP addresses per person, but the counting method is the same one used used by the author (total number of IPs divided by total number of people. Of course, this very large number is misleading as well, in that we will never reach that utilization level. Giving the wrong impression just fuels the debate over an intergovernmental takeover of the IP addressing system. Bad decisions are often made with bad data.

It is this type of misleading analysis that has led some ITU member states to advocate for the ITU to become a “global” Regional Internet Registry. Their argument seems to be that since there is a looming shortage of IPv4, the ITU should take a chunk of IPv6 to be given to countries to manage, so as not to repeat the “wasteful” allocation policies of the past. The fallacy in this argument is that allocating by country on a “one size fits all” model would be orders of magnitude more wasteful than the “3 sizes fits all” model used by the technical community in the earliest days of the Internet.

Digital divides are a serious handicap to the development of economies in Africa. Let’s tackle some of the root causes of those divides, such as lack of economic resources, poor education systems and short-sighted telecommunications policy regimes instead of decrying divides where none actually exist.

By McTim, Internet policy and governance consultant

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The digital divide is not caused by IP address allocation policies. Peter HJ van Eijk  –  May 31, 2010 3:41 PM

I am sorry to hear that my post caused you discomfort.
It looks like I have not always succeeded in making my points clear.

The digital divide is not caused by IP address allocation policies. The fact is that development speeds do differ on a country by country basis, and that these are reflected in the internet adoption rate by country. It it also true that most countries have had their internet development after the establishment of CIDR, which is reflected in the numbers too.

My main point is that we’ll run out of IPv4 space as it is currently allocated, because there is a big latent demand.

As I wrote, IPv6’s address space is so huge that it would be very hard to ‘waste’, and address/capita ratio’s make little sense. I agree with you on that too.

The current IPv6 allocation policy has 7/8 of the addresss space reserved. So even if we mess up address allocation in IPv6, we still have 7 more chances to get it right..

Good. And where or why does a digital divide involve IP addressing? Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 1, 2010 5:30 PM

Mctim points out several other contributory factors that have a much larger impact.

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