The US government is entering the next stage of grief and loss over IPv6, asking companies to explain why they won't just move over to the new protocol.
"We are on the verge of an explosion in the number of Internet-connected devices, from smartwatches to connected refrigerators, furniture and thermostats," the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) – a part of the Department of Commerce – enthuses, noting: "Many of those devices will need an IP address to connect to the Internet."
It warns we have run out of space but then breezily notes: "Luckily, the Internet technical community has been developing the next-generation Internet Protocol for nearly two decades."
Indeed it has. The only problem? Despite 10 years of determined efforts to encourage adoption, "only about a third of the Internet services in the United States are IPv6 capable," says the NTIA. What's the US government going to do about it? Ask everyone what the hell is going on.
"As part of our effort to encourage greater IPv6 adoption, NTIA is requesting comment from organizations that have implemented IPv6. We want to hear from all stakeholders, particularly those who have implemented IPv6, about the factors and circumstances that influence the decision to adopt and use the protocol and what NTIA can do to promote greater adoption of IPv6."
In other words: what sort of condiments did you spread on your shit sandwich to make it edible?
It's been 20 years since the protocol was first approved as a successor to the ubiquitous IPv4. The new protocol expands the internet's addressing systems from large to absolutely massive but, of course, the geniuses at the Internet Engineering Task Force decided not to make it backwards-compatible, which has somewhat hampered its adoption.
In fact, "father of the internet" Vint Cerf recently put IPv6 at the top of his list of things he wished had been done differently with the internet.
"If I could have justified it, putting in a 128-bit address space would have been nice so we wouldn't have to go through this painful, 20-year process of going from IPv4 to IPv6," he told a press conference last week.
What Vint was too modest to note was that if it hadn't been for him personally arguing that the internet was going to be much bigger than people assumed, then the IPv4 address space would have been much, much smaller than it is. When he proposed a billion addresses, the early internet engineers thought he'd lost his senses.
The 4.3 billion addresses that we ended up with lasted a pretty good time before finally running out almost exactly a year ago today. But such is the resistance to shifting over to IPv6 that people have gone to ever-increasing efforts to grab enough of the existing stuff.
"The IPv4 transfer market has been extremely active in the year since IPv4 depletion," notes a blog post from one of the five organizations that dishes out IP addresses, ARIN. ARIN actually has an IPv4 waitlist with more than 400 organizations on – despite the fact it has only been able to provide additional addresses 12 times in the past year.
ARIN also rather cutely suggests that companies that don't need their IPv4 addresses hand them back. "Organizations with unused IPv4 addresses that are interested in making them available are encouraged to contact ARIN as early in the process as possible to make sure the process goes smoothly," they suggest, pretending not to know that there is a very healthy black market going on, where address blocks are being traded for millions of dollars.
In fact, it's become so profitable that the criminal world has started involving itself in the market, hijacking unused address blocks and then selling them through shell companies. Yes, it's that bad.
Talk to me
But back to the US government.
"Some of the questions we're asking are: What are the benefits of and obstacles related to implementing IPv6? What factors contribute to an organization's decision to implement IPv6? What is the anticipated return on an IPv6-related investment? How long does the planning process for IPv6 implementation take, and what are the different types of costs involved? Those wishing to provide input have until October 3, 2016 to submit comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org."
The last time the NTIA did a big push was in 2011 – five years ago. It's decided it is time for another and will be raising it as a major topic at the Internet Governance Forum in Mexico in December. Why now? Because, unless Ted Cruz gets his way, the NTIA will hand over control of the IANA contract next week, leaving a massive conversational gap for attendees. Might as well fill it with something that people can worry about but do very little to change. ®