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October 28th, 2003

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Draft Wesley C.

October 28th, 2003

I’ve found my candidate.  What America needs is a President with vigor, integrity, and military experience.  A President who will strongly oppose assimilation by the Borg Collective.

Math is Hard! – Bad Journalism, IPv6, and the BBC

October 27th, 2003

Here’s a good way to frighten yourself: Learn about something, and then read what the press writes about it. It’s astonishing how often flatly untrue things get reported as facts.

I first observed this back in 1997 when I was a Democratic lawyer in the U.S. House of Representatives working on the (rather ridiculous) campaign finance investigation. (The investigating committee’s conspiracy-minded chairman was famous for shotgunning pumpkins in his backyard in order to figure out exactly how Hillary snuffed Vince Foster). The investigation was heavily covered by the press; as an investigator, I was privy to a lot of inside information, and got to watch how the underlying stories got reported. What was not surprising was how easy it was for White House officials and Congressional staffers to manipulate reporters by the use of leaks, exclusives, and off-the-record briefing. What was very surprising, though, was how lazy most Capitol Hill reporters seemed to be. Many simply did not undertake to check and verify the facts their insider sources fed them; and once something false was published as fact, most reporters were extremely reluctant to go back and correct the record. Most reporters preferred the pursuit of scoops and leaks to the gumshoe work of investigative reporting. (Some of the reporters I observed did excellent, factually rigorous work, but they were in the minority.)

More recently, I’ve seen the same discouraging phenomenon in reporting on technology and, in particular, the Internet.

Today’s Example A: a BBC story on the need for IPv6, by Ian Hardy. Let’s do a basic fact-check, line by line:

BBC ClickOnline’s Ian Hardy investigates what is going to happen when the number of net addresses – Internet Protocol numbers – runs out sometime in 2005.

The claim that IPv4 addresses are going to run out in 2005 is patently absurd. There is not a shred of evidence to support it.

Indeed, had the reporter bothered to contact the RIPE NCC or any of the other three regional address registries (the regional organizations responsible for assigning IP addresses to ISPs), or the IANA (the global organization responsible for allocating IP addresses to the regional registries), he would have been pointed to (gasp! ) publicly available data! For example, he might have looked at the October statistics presentation published jointly by the regional address registries. Or he might have Googled up Geoff Huston’s excellent July 2003 paper, “IPv4 – How Long Have We Got?“. I won’t repeat his analysis, but I recommend the paper — like most things geoffhustonian, it’s well-written, straightforward, and true to the data. Geoff’s notable contribution is that he uses BGP routing table data to supplement the address exhaustion pictures painted by the IANA and regional registry tables. With a bunch of careful caveats about how difficult and unreliable it is to predict future growth in demand, Geoff uses statistically reasonable projections to argue convincingly that the IPv4 space will likely last until around 2022. In any event, there is no evidence that IPv4 addresses will be exhausted in the coming decade.

For the BBC to report as a fact — in the boldface header, no less — that IPv4 addresses are going to run out in 2005 (i.e., within 2 years!) mirrors the atrocious quality of technology reporting worldwide.

Bad journalism?  Yes.  But wait! There’s more…

A taskforce of experts hope to solve the problem by creating what is called IPv6 and would provide 64 billion extra IP addresses.

IPv6 is already created; deployment started in 1999. And the sentence massively understates the size of the IPv6 address space. IPv6 replaces the 32-bit address field of IPv4 with a 128-bit address field. Doing the math, IPv4 has around 4.2×10**9, or 4.2 billion, unique addresses. IPv6 has around 3.4×10**38 (that’s 3,400,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000), or 3.4 gazillion. A much, much, much bigger number than 64 billion.

Anyone who logs onto the internet will automatically receive an IP address.

True, sort of, but not every Internet device receives a publicly-routable IP address (which is what matters for address exhaustion analysis). Those who dial-up their ISPs or connect via corporate networks, for example, will receive non-public IP addresses on a temporary basis. It would be nice if every Internet-connected device had its own publicly-routable IP address, but that’s not the world we live in. Many end-users join the Internet from behind Network Address Translation (NAT) boxes. (NAT is a method of connecting multiple computers to the Internet using one publicly-routable IP address.)

So what’s wrong with this sentence? It shows that the reporter hasn’t bothered to learn the basics of IP addressing. The implication is that every new Internet device needs a IP address (and we all know about how many new Internet devices are getting bought up). In fact, the wide deployment of NAT (which is a bad thing, for reasons I’ll blog about later) allows huge numbers of new Internet devices to go online with only small numbers of IP addresses. You can’t speak intelligently about IPv4 address exhaustion without mentioning the impact of NAT. (The reporter later alludes obliquely to the difference between static and dynamic IP address, but without understanding it.)

The global distribution of available IP addresses is extremely unbalanced. Most of the numbers remain in the USA, where the technology was originally invented.

That’s at least a bit misleading. The global distribution of IP addresses mirrors the global distribution of the Internet, which is unbalanced. The policies of the regional addresses registries ensure that IP addresses are allocated and assigned to the networks that need them, worldwide.

More than two-thirds of the world’s IP addresses were bought by American companies.

Wrong. First off, IP addresses not “for sale.” Americans companies receive allocations and assignments as members of regional Internet registries, or as customers of members. IP addresses cannot be bought or sold. And take another look at the actual statistics. American companies have been assigned vastly less than two-thirds of the world’s IPv4 addresses. (It is true that the IANA assigned around 90 top-level IPv4 blocks to various companies and government agencies in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but those blocks were not “bought,” comprise less than a third of the total IPv4 space, include some non-US entities, and are vastly underused – it’s not like Apple Computer actually uses much of its top-level block.)

“Level Three Communications, which is a really large ISP, has more IP addresses than the whole of Asia,” said Matthew Sarrel, Technical Director of PC Magazine Labs.

Wrong again. The public data above shows that APNIC, the IP address registry for the Asia/Pacific region, has been allocated eleven (11) top-level blocks of IPv4 addresses, and three (3) sub-TLA blocks of IPv6 addresses. Level Three has been allocated zero (0) top-level blocks of IPv4 addresses (i.e., something considerably smaller than a top-level block) and zero sub-TLA blocks of IPv6 addresses. This information is not secret. It’s right here on the IANA website, with separate tables for the IPv4 and IPv6 spaces. All Google-able within a click or two.

“As companies and people in Asia get more devices they are going to run out of IP addresses.”

Not true. As note above, the IPv4 space is good for at least another decade, and probably two. The global IP addresses allocation system provides that those need IP addresses can get them, on the basis of need. The article somehow implies that those in Asia are at some kind of relative disadvantage, in terms of getting IP addresses. That’s just not true. The IANA policies for allocation of IPv4 address blocks to the regional Internet registries are applied evenhanded on the basis of need. The regional registries are all non-profit membership organizations dedicated to the service of their members, and to the achievement of IP address availability (as well as conservation and aggregation). My guess is that the reporter did not bother to talk with anyone at one of the regional Internet registries. In any event, he didn’t fact-check the quote above.

One of the biggest pressures on IPv4 is the ‘always on’ internet connection. At the moment, when you dial your ISP they assign you a temporary IP address, which is taken away the moment you log off and given to someone else.

Not so. Always-on Internet devices can be configured either with private addresses or publicly-routable addresses. ISPs decide whether or not to assign their customers publicly-routable addresses or private addresses behind an NAT box, taking account of a variety of network management considerations. Whether customers’ devices are always-on or not may well affect those ISP considerations, but it’s not correct to state that always-on devices automatically require publicly-routable, static IP addresses.

But in the new era of 3G wireless computing, each of us needs a static, or permanent IP address.

That suggests that static IP addresses are (or should be) assigned to individuals, one address to one person. Wrong: IP addresses are assigned to Internet devices, by the relevant service providers. In the future, we will want static IP addresses for each Internet-connected device we have.

This is intended to provide four billion times four billion times four billion as many as currently exist.

Aha! Now we learn why the reporter misreported the total number of IPv6 addresses: He can’t multiply. “Four billion times four billion times four billion” isn’t the same as 4 x 4 x 4 = 64, and then you just tack the “billion” back on, giving you the story’s “64 billion” figure. (You have to multiply out all the zeros, too).


So: Do these factual errors matter? (I.e., aren’t I being a little hard on the poor reporter? After all, he’s a journalist, not a Internet techie, and he’s got a lot of stories to write.)


  1. It matters because the story paints a false and alarming picture. “Eeek! IPv4 addresses are going to run out ‘sometime in 2005’! Asia is being treated unfairly by the Americans! We’ve got to do something!” Readers reasonably expect the BBC to report reality; this article amounts to scare-mongering.
  2. It matters because there is a real and important IPv6 story that should be reported. Even though there’s no crisis in IP addressing, there is nevertheless an interesting and important story to be told. IPv6 is needed; it’s a powerful upgrade to the Internet’s core protocols; it will enable new capabilities and possibilities by re-enabling a more purely end-to-end architecture for the Internet. There are serious technology and policy implications to the question of whether the Internet is truly end-to-end or not. The false alarmism of the BBC story obscures understanding of the real issues at stake.
  3. It matters because it’s the BBC. The BBC is a news agency of global scope, and a reputation for reliability. It should be able to report on technology with some degree of accuracy. I expect more from the BBC.
  4. It matters because it was easily avoidable. All of the factual errors in the story could have been corrected with some decent reporting. For example, none of the individuals quoted work for one of the regional IP address registries, which are the obvious sources of expert factual information about the resources they are charged with administering.
  5. It matters because of what the error rate implies more generally. IP addressing is something I know fairly well. If the BBC is making such fundamental misstatements of fact about something I know, it is reasonable (and troubling) to wonder whether similar ratios of mistake to fact arise in the rest of the BBC’s reporting.

ICANN Non Delenda Est

October 27th, 2003

The latest news from the ICANN meeting in Carthage is that substantive issues, rather than organizational hoopla, are dominating the agenda and the discussions.  That’s a welcome story, and indicates the success of last year’s ICANN reform process.  Key issues:  DNS wildcards, IPv6, Whois, security, new top-level domains. 

This is the first ICANN meeting I’ve ever missed, and it feels weird to be so far from the action.  I’ll be following via webcast later this week.  A big shout out to the ICANN crew:  Boo-ya!  It’s great to see the organization in such solid shape.  The new leadership team is settling in quickly, striking out in new and useful directions, and doing an excellent job so far.  Notably, CEO Paul Twomey has devoted considerable resources to increasing participation from developing countries.  And indeed, I’m happy to note that the Carthage schedule is full of workshops and more workshops and regional meetings and more regional meetings at least partially focused on the imperative of internationalization in policymaking for the Internet’s systems of unique identifiers.

Everyone’s a critic

October 24th, 2003

This is too funny to be true.  Annoyingly, the BBC doesn’t report the exact words of the voice booming through the clouds (“Nothing personal, Mel-baby!  Let’s do communion sometime!  Have your people call my archangels!  Kiss-kiss!”).

To be honest, I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier, like during the filming of Lethal Weapon 4.

New Strategies for Interconnection in Africa

October 24th, 2003

On the xDev blog, I’ve posted a note about AfrISPA’s smart new strategies to enable greater Internet interconnection in Africa.  In my view, there’s a great investment opportunity there for the intrepid and foresighted ISP.

Greetings, Earthlings! And now, the news…

October 23rd, 2003

For several years, I’ve been obsessed with Kim Jong-Il.  Fuelled by the lurid stories of high-ranking defectors, the erratic behavior and rhetorical histrionics of the regime, the Orwellian cult of personality, and the obvious contrast between the people’s famine and the Leader’s feasts, there has developed a rich body of literature debating whether Kim Jong-Il is a rational-but-isolated dictator or a cruel-and-demented pervert.  The hereditary potentate of an isolated, impoverished Communist kleptocracy, Kim Jong Il doesn’t do interviews, and never speaks in public, so it’s not easy to get a grip on his personality.

My obsession started around the time of Kim Il-Sung’s death, when I witnessed on CNN the North Koreans’ jaw-dropping mass spasm of grief.  How strange to learn that North Korea’s Communist crown prince was into fast cars, hot chicks, and French brandy.  The last few years have brought a series of grippng tales from inside the Hermit Kingdom:  “I Made Pizza for Kim Jong-Il” (part 1, part 2, part 3), by the Milanese chef Ermanno Furlanis, who spent several bizarre weeks teaching the art of gourmet pizza to North Korean army officers; Vladimir Pulikovsky’s tales of bon vivant Kim Jong-Il’s raucous, wine-soaked train sojourn across Russia in 2001.  Tales of arbitrary state terror and inhuman suffering in North Korean gulags.  The admission that teams of North Korean frogmen had kidnapped Japanese citizens — including a beautician, a schoolgirl, and a couple on a date — right off the beach. The hardy partying, heavy drinking, and random killings. All utterly bizarre and completely riveting. Just last weekend, the cover story of the New York Times Magazine featured Kim Jong Il in “The Last Emperor“, arguing unconvincingly for the he’s-not-as-insane-as-you-think school.

Of all the available sources of information about Kim Jong-Il, though, there is nothing as entertaining as the English-language version of the DPRK’s official Korean Central News Agency. What’s most fun is not the superheated rhetoric, the hilariously aggressive defensiveness, or the fantasy-world reports of international friendship and solidarity with the North Korean regime, but the translator’s English.  The stories are written in language so purple and affected it sounds like something from a 1930s B-movie.  Here’s today’s top story, for example:

S. Korean Authorities’ Treachery Flailed

    Pyongyang, October 22 (KCNA) — Rodong Sinmun today in a signed commentary brands the decision made by the south Korean authorities to additionally dispatch troops to Iraq as a product of the U.S. persistent pressure and as anti-national and anti-peace moves of pro-U.S. forces. The south Korean authorities are going to drive many young south Koreans as bullet shields of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces to please the U.S. despite the opposition and denunciation of the entire nation. Dismissing this as a dastardly act of submitting to the U.S. and an intolerable anti-national criminal act, the commentary continues:
    It is Choe Pyong Ryol, representative of the Grand National Party, and its followers who busied themselves to push the additional troop dispatch to Iraq as requested by the U.S., their master. Traitors who betrayed the nation offering great many fellow countrymen as cannon fodder of the U.S. war of aggression obsessed with greed for power and dependence on outsiders and dirty political swindlers will never be able to go scot-free.
    We can never tolerate the criminal act of driving young south Koreans to the war of aggression launched by the U.S. imperialists, the commentary says, urging the south Korean authorities to ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by the additional troop dispatch and unconditionally withdraw the wrong anti-national decision.

When’s the last time you read a headline about “treachery flailed”?  Or saw an official national news agency use phrases like “dastardly act”, “bullet shields,” and “dirty political swindlers”?  Or check out this late-breaking news bulletin:

Kim Jong Il’s Songun Politics Praised

    Pyongyang, October 22 (KCNA) — Mohamed Dioue Fofana, secretary general of the African Regional Committee for the Study of the Juche Idea who visited the DPRK, expressed full support to the Songun politics of the DPRK. As leader Kim Jong Il has pursued the Songun politics, the Korean people have bravely foiled the anti-DPRK moves of the imperialist allied forces including the U.S. to win victories, he said, and continued:
    The reality of the DPRK clearly proves the truth that a country remains shining and the nation strong when guided by a great leader.
    The reality of Afghanistan and Iraq which find themselves in such a miserable position as they are because they were weak in defence capability and the independent stand convinced me that the Songun politics of the DPRK is the most powerful political mode in the present times.
    Thanks to Kim Jong Il’s Songun politics the DPRK is known as a country steering the world politics and a dignified country which nobody can dare provoke.
    It was a clear proof of the validity and vitality of the Songun politics that progressive people of the world highly praised Kim Jong Il’s Songun politics as the guiding idea of the 21st century at a national seminar in New Delhi in August.
    Kim Jong Il’s Songun politics is a model of independent politics in the 21st century.

[In case that’s not crystal clear, the “Juche idea” is the state religion of North Korea — a post-Marxist combination of self-reliance and independence that means that foreigners shouldn’t tell the DPRK what to do, that citizens should always do exactly what the state says, and, conversely, that citizens should try to solve their personal problems (like starvation) on their own without bothering the authorities in Pyongyang, who are very busy trying to learn how to cook a decent gourmet pizza.  “Songun” translates roughly to “army-based”, so “Songun politics” refers to the policy of giving all the good food, housing, clothing, and electricity to the North Korean army, with any leftovers going to the rest of the population.  By the way, I will gladly pay good money to anyone who can put me in contact with “Mohamed Dioue Fofana, secretary general of the African Regional Committee for the Study of the Juche Idea”.] 

Without a doubt, the Korean Central News Agency is a daily must-read.

And whatever your tolerance for kimjongilia, I recommend Kim Jong Il (the illmatic)’s Journal, which somehow gets unprecedented realtime access to transcripts of the Dear Leader’s online chat sessions with Saddam Hussein, G. W. Bush, and Dick Cheney.

More VOIP: Query to Kevin Werbach

October 23rd, 2003

Wise commentator (and my lawschool classmate) Kevin Werbach thinks I’ve got the political fallout of the Minnesota PUC vs. Vonage decision at least partially backwards.  Says Kevin:

I actually think the Minnesota decision could lessen the immediate pressure to adopt a rational framework at the federal level. Judge Davis effectively preserved the status quo, in which VOIP services are de facto unregulated. The ones upset about that situation are the square-state Senators worried about universal service funds, but they haven’t made much noise since the FCC turned back their challenge in 1998. What’s much more likely to provoke FCC action is a patchwork of states attempting to regulate VOIP. Partly because it puts in place an outcome contrary to the one the FCC generally supports, and partly because it’s state regulators stepping into what the FCC feels is its turf. Don’t underestimate the power of that second factor.

Kevin’s got a much better sense of The Way Things Are in Washington, especially at the FCC, so I challenge his thinking at my peril.  But, in the interest of furthering my education, I’ll take the bait and push back a little.

There are two ways that a comprehensive reform of federal regulation of the telecom sector (in response to the emerging techical and economic realities of VOIP) can be accomplished:  (1) the FCC rewriting its thicket of regulations implementing the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and/or (2) Congress rewriting the Telecommunications Act itself.  In scenario (1), the FCC would have to reform its regulations within the ever-blurrier “telecommunications service” vs. “information service” paradigm, tinker with the key definitions, reconfigure the consequent regulatory rights and responsibilities, and, if all goes well, generate a semi-rational regulatory outcome within an increasingly irrational statutory framework.  In scenario (2), Congress would have the ability to craft a truly rational converged statutory framework that would then be the basis for a truly rational set of implementing regulations.

Kevin is absolutely right that Judge Davis’s Minnesota PUC vs. Vonage decision lets the VOIP-friendly FCC off the hook for now, because it preserves the status quo of unregulated VOIP and prevents the state regulatory authorities from stepping into what the FCC clearly thinks to be its turf.  So scenario (1) becomes less likely.  But my contention is that the Minnesota decision makes Congressional intervension much more likely.  And not just because the square-state Senators are going to be agitated about universal service funds.  The real hydraulic pressure on Congress to act is going to come from the big telecom operators, who (a) are annoyed that upstart VOIP services are able to offer cheap phone connectivity without any of the regulatory pain, (b) recognize the competitive threat VOIP presents, (c) are aware that their own initiatives to deploy VOIP services are going to be expensive and time-consuming, due to the tremendous engineering challenge of making PSTN and VOIP coexist within the same network, (d) have lots and lots of lobbying muscle and political money to throw around, and (e) have every incentive to put the big hurt on their allies in the Senate and House until they act to harmonize, somehow, the competitive ruleset applicable to fixed and wireless PSTN and VOIP services. 

Given the VOIP-friendliness and relative competence of the FCC and the special-interest-prone political realities of Washington, it seems clear that FCC action is more likely to produce a rational and technically-clueful result.  But I suspect that Judge Davis’s ruling has unleashed a clutch of telecom Furies that will only gather strength as they screech and swoop and hound Congress to take action.  Whether the FCC might ward off these Furies and obviate the need for Congressional action by moving to fashion a reformed (and pre-emptive) regulatory framework on its own is a question I’d pitch back to Kevin.

More broadly, I’m interested to hear what you Gentle Readers think I’m missing or getting wrong.

Yossi Vardi live!

October 21st, 2003

Yossi Vardi is now giving a terrific talk to the Harvard Law School class I’m co-teachingThe Edge Against the Hub: The Struggle for Dominance on the Internet.   The lecture is being webcast live.

UPDATE:  John Palfrey’s notes on Yossi’s talkAudiovisual archive, featuring stream, mp3 & wav.

More on Vonage: Ernest Miller’s Critique

October 21st, 2003

Ernest Miller has posted an interesting response to my earlier analysis of Judge Davis’s Minnesota Vonage decision.  It seems that we agree about the big picture, but disagree about the implications of that decision.  Some thoughts on his thoughts:

Ernest does a good job of capturing what’s irrational in the current telecom regulatory sytsem:  false distinctions and the distorted incentives they create.  Under current law, a “telecommunications service” is subject to state and federal regulation;  an “information service” is subject to federal regulation only.  As Judge Davis ruled, whether an IP telephony service is telecommunications or information turns on last-mile technology.  If a service uses IP for the last mile to the customer, it is an information service.  If a service uses the PSTN for the last mile to the customer, it is a telecommunications service.  From the standpoint of technology, this makes no sense:  both services almost certainly convert calls into packets — the only difference is that the first service does the conversion at a little box in the home while the second does it at a bigger box in the local switching station across the street.  Why should the second service be forced to deal with 50 state regulatory and tariffing schemes as well as the FCC, while the first service is allowed to proceed almost entirely unregulated?  “Tradition” is not a very tasty answer.

As telecom companies increasingly migrate their networks to the Internet Protocol, it becomes ever more nutty to draw momentous regulatory distinctions on the basis of marginal technical differences that carry little if any practical consequence.

Lest you think this is a big Love-In, Ernest and I disagree somewhat on the likely near-term implications of Judge Davis’s decision.  Says Ernest:

The decision amounts to a huge (HUGE) subsidy for VoIP as opposed to “traditional” phone service. The response is obvious. Traditional phone companies begin a major rollout of VoIP technology. By simply having technicians emplace a VoIP router box on the customer’s premises instead of the local switch, major telecommunications companies can easily shed tons of state and federal regulations. The telephone companies will have to split into VoIP and traditional. The traditional phone companies will be stuck providing service to the poorer neighborhoods where DSL isn’t cost effective and still provide basic services (such as 911) to everyone (without many of the usual cross subsidies, however). The new VoIP telephone companies will cherry pick better neighborhoods and will be able to profit at the expensive of the traditional companies because they no longer bear a heavy burden of regulation and taxes. Rollout won’t be that expensive, since the cost of the routers and installation, especially given mass production, will almost certainly be cheaper than the taxes thereby avoided over the period of a year or so. Additionally, VoIP companies avoid all that nasty “common carrier” regulation.

That is a plausible scenario, but one I find unlikely — it does not account for the probability of legislative intervention and reform.  My guess is that Judge Davis’s decision is the depth charge that will bring to the surface the unmistakeable evidence that the creaky old vessel of telecom regulation has been blasted beyond repair.  As a harbinger of doom for the regulatory architecture embodied in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, it strikes me as an awfully important decision.  The forces set in motion by Judge Davis’s ruling will, I predict, impel Congress and/or the FCC to (attempt to) craft a rational nationwide regulatory regime that fits the all-IP future.

(Of course, given the amount of political money and lobbying muscle that the telecom companies can wield, there is no guarantee that a regulatory reform effort will bring improvement.  And, historically, the time and energy required to work through the conflicting interests and to craft legislation for the telecommunications sector are, well, daunting.  Still, given the expected consequences of inaction, comprehensive reform seems well worth a try.)