Internet engineers tear into United Nations' plan to move us all to IPv6

Flawed beyond repair, utterly broken, critically endangers the web – and that's the good news

And... this is where it gets political

Of course, the bigger question is: how does such a document get written at an international standards body and make it so far down the line to adoption by the world's governments when its contents are so far from accepted operational norms?

And the answer to that is purely political.

The UN, through its telecoms arm the ITU, has been trying to insert itself into the internet world almost since the network's inception.

But early internet engineers were fiercely opposed to a government-run process, and so developed their own systems outside the UN. They then created a family of organizations to do standards development outside of traditional venues: think the IETF, ICANN, RIRs, W3C, Internet Society, and so on.

As a result, there has been a pitched battle for the past 20 years over who gets to decide the rules of the internet, with the biggest being the World Summit on the Information Society back in 2005 when the world's governments went head-to-head in two main groups.

One was led by the United States, and insisted on keeping the internet under the control of various bodies; the other, led largely by Russia and China, tried to pull it under the United Nations. The US-led group won.

But that didn't stop the efforts to redraw the net's map, and the ITU in particular has repeatedly encroached on internet standards, typically making a push at its big Plenipotentiary meetings that it holds every four years.

At the 2010 Plenipot in Guadalajara, Mexico, the internet community fought very hard to be formally recognized as the authorities when it comes to internet technologies – and won literally a footnote in the final text.

Step by step

That footnote was carried over to the next Plenipot in 2014 in Busan, South Korea, and basically the ITU agreed that it would work in collaboration with the various internet bodies on relevant issues.

But at seemingly every opportunity, the ITU has found ways to try to put itself at the center of emerging technologies, usually by stressing the importance of emerging and under-development countries and economies – where, it should be noted, the internet organizations are very weakly represented.

In this case, a decision to look at "encouraging the full deployment of IPv6 to ensure the long-term sustainability of the addressing space, including in light of future developments in the Internet of Things" has turned into the IPv4-IPv6 1:1 mapping plan that has internet engineers up in arms.

Although the engineers are instinctively wary of ITU work in their field, the main recommendation in this case has only reinforced their view that the UN body should have nothing to do with internet matters.

It didn't help that the ITU only released its draft to RIPE after the organization repeatedly and specifically asked for the file, and the organization did not include the internet organizations that have all the expertise in its discussions (despite vague claims in the document stating otherwise).

"The IETF and RIR communities must in this specific case be clear and crisp in the response to the ITU-T that having ITU-T injecting themselves in matters like this is stepping too far into the area where other SDOs [Standards Developing Organizations] are responsible for," argued one engineer, who was then repeatedly supported by others.

Another was more blunt, saying that it was just the "ITU's latest improper attempt to meddle in IP addressing: something that's completely out of scope for them."

In short: the latest proposal from the UN to get everyone onto the next-generation internet was developed without talking to the people who actually build those networks, and as a result it is a complete mess. ®

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