Private Property Saves the Internet. Film at 11.

My friend Donovan works for Slide. Anyone who pays attention to domain names knows that just about every possible five letter domain name is already registered, let alone any domain name that actually corresponds to an English word. When I wondered about how they ended up getting slide.com, his response was simple: "We bought it," as if it was obvious.

Well, it wasn't quite obvious to me, since I was still stuck in my old way of thinking about domain names. I used to think you didn't really own a domain name, you just registered it, and it was all first come first served with nominal maintenance fees. Domain speculators were evil.

Well, I've grown up a bit since then. It turns out that domain speculators are just homesteaders. Now, occasionally these homesteaders set up a homestead right between your million dollar condo and the beach and build a large ugly billboard smack in your view, then want an exorbitant amount of money to sell the property to you. But now that people have adjusted to this practice, it hardly ever happens any more, because people now know that if they want an ocean view, it's much cheaper to grab the property between you and the ocean (i.e. typo domains) before you build your condo complex (i.e. hugely popular search engine). Companies are also naming themselves (i.e. picking a location in domain space) in the same way that people look for real estate, and the fees that naming consultants get are starting to look suspiciously similar to real estate agent rates.

Strangely enough, at this point nobody is really talking about running out of domain names, though domain names are scarcer than they need to be due to the limited number of generic top level domains (.com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, etc.). Of course, .com domains are still the most highly sought after, and anyone who wants a .com domain that's a commonly used word should be prepared to pay a hefty sum. This insures that domain names go to those who value them the most. Some of the smaller country code registries have even capitalized on this by charging a higher registration fee for more highly sought after domain names.

Given that this system seems to work so well for domain names, I would think that it would be obvious that it would be even more useful for IP addresses, the numbers the domain names ultimately map to, and even the autonomous system numbers that identify different ISPs in the global routing table and of which there are only 65,000. Unfortunately, these even more precious resources are still centrally managed, and ICANN and the regional address registries have shown no desire whatsoever to treat IP addresses or ASNs as property. Hence, we're rapidly running out of both, and the powers that be are pushing us to move to the even larger centrally managed address space of IPv6.

Here's a prediction: it ain't gonna happen, at least not soon. There is a chicken and egg problem with IPv6. Nobody wants a web site that's not accessible to most of the Internet. Some autocratic regimes may decide to switch to IPv6 early, but it will be to isolate their users, not because they want more addresses. The primary use of IPv6 right now is for networks inside organizations and between closely related organizations like universities, and for this sort of thing, private IPv4 addresses are just about as useful without requiring specific application support. I say just about because at least with IPv6 addresses you can be sure you won't collide with any new organizations you want to communicate with.

ICANN could make the existing IP addresses and autonomous system numbers last significant longer simply by calling them property. The remaining address space could simply be auctioned off, and ICANN and the regional registrars could continue to charge nominal administrative fees to maintain the registries. I seriously doubt the existing ICANN organization could ever successfully make such a move, however, and the current movement to increase the involvement of non-US governments in ICANN is likely to make that situation worse, not better.

It is possible, however, to use IP addresses without the cooperation of any central authority. One merely has to convince an ISP to route the addresses you want to use to you, and their neighbors have to neglect to filter those routes. Spammers use this practice to take control of abandoned "zombie" address space. This is made easier by the fact that the regional registries don't do a very good job of keeping track of addresses once they're assigned and rarely if ever reclaim addresses. While spam filters and ISPs will start filtering these addresses once they're used for spam, it's likely that a non-spammer who started using abandoned addresses could continue to use those addresses indefinitely.

One possibility that could lead to treating IP addresses and ASNs as property would be for ICANN or one or more of the regional registrars to become completely ineffectual, which ICANN is close to being now, and which will only get worse as various governments start fighting over control of the Internet. Unfortunately, it's likely that there won't be any good property protections for IP addresses or ASNs any time soon, but then again there really aren't any protections for domain names either unless you're the biggest company who owns a particular trademark.

Share this

I hate to beat a dead horse,

I hate to beat a dead horse, but how can you really own an IP address, which is just a number?

Same with toll free numbers.

Same with toll free numbers. 800, 877, 866 etc.. Except the phone company won't give out info on the listing of a dead number. The market will meet out its ends. As long as the gov. agencies don't get involved and screw things up. All your addresses are belong to us.
Is there an applet to give the market value of your domain name?
How about A Buck Three Eighty?

Same way you can own a

Same way you can own a domain name, which are "just words." An IP address is far more than just a number. It's your location on the Internet. What I mean by treating it as property is that people should have assurances that someone is not going to take their IP numbers away from them just because some organization thinks that someone else "needs" it more than they do. This generally doesn't happen, though it's probably going to start in the not too distant future. If you look at ARIN's policies, there's lots of talk about "justification of need," which sounds a lot like socialism to me.

Also note that I'm talking about portable blocks of addresses here, which are generally allocated directly by regional registries, not the address that most home and small business users basically "rent" from their ISP.