[ppml] Research on transfer markets, was: RFC 1744 and its discontents

Scott Leibrand sleibrand at internap.com
Fri Apr 18 11:26:40 EDT 2008

Tom Vest wrote:
> On Apr 18, 2008, at 8:35 AM, Scott Leibrand wrote:

>> One big overarching meta-assumption I think we might differ on is
>> distinguishing what is ideal (what the men in suits could do with the
>> power of government behind them) and what is possible (what those of us
>> in jeans can do within our policy development framework).  For example,
>> if the government gets involved they can dictate how IP addresses get
>> privatized.  But as long as we think a non-regulated system is better
>> for the industry, we have to work within what's already been done (for
>> example, we can't force legacy holders to give back space, or charge
>> high per-address fees to encourage conservation).
> Hi Scott,
> I think we all think of ourselves as realists/pragmatists, but that 
> doesn't require us to be so fatalistic.
> There's a vast middle ground between men with suits and guns and Hobbe's 
> nasty, brutish (and short) competition of all against all. It's called 
> "collective action" -- i.e., members of the community voluntarily, 
> collectively deciding to undertake some action(s), or to forebear from 
> taking some action(s), with the goal of achieving some outcome that is 
> preferable to external occupation or complete anarchy. Wasn't that what 
> happened when the community established the RIRs, and agreed to abide by 
> the policies that community members themselves created?

I agree that there is a middle way, which is why I'm so involved in the 
transfer policy proposal.  I also agree that we can accomplish a lot 
with collective action, and that we needn't involve the men with suits. 
  I'm only pointing out that there are limits to what we can accomplish 
with collective action, and that many parallels to prior privatizations 
are of somewhat limited utility precisely because this transition is 
occurring by collective action (without as much government authority to 
force reluctant players to participate).
>> If there was a land grab, it has occurred gradually over my lifetime.
> Can you tell us what "land grab" means precisely, and point us all to 
> statistical evidence that that has already happened

I don't think there has been a land grab: hence my use of "if".  I think 
that IP addresses have, for the most part, been assigned fairly and 
equitably based on the conditions and understanding at the time they 
were given out.

> and already 
> happened to such a degree that everyone should dismiss the wholesale 
> privatization of IP address resources as "nothing new"?

You can call it a privatization if you want, but I think it's more 
accurately just a distribution of IP addresses.  What we're facing with 
IPv4 exhaustion is a requirement for redistribution, which we can either 
meet with inaction (and possibly end up with a Hobbesian free-for-all or 
men-in-suits regulation), or we can collectively establish some 
standards for the redistribution and continue the current cooperative 
self-governance that has benefited the Internet so much for so long.

>> In my mind, these are good and useful comparisons, but to my mind they
>> presuppose that the entity making the policy has authority to change
>> allocations and/or privatize resources.
> I'm curious -- are you suggesting that in the other cases, the policy 
> entity had such "authority" but in this case the address resource 
> community does not? To me, that seems like a strange (or maybe deeply 
> depressing) position for an elected representative of the community to 
> take...

We have a collective action problem.  We have authority, but only so far 
as the industry is collectively willing to cede it.  If we were to 
assert authority to reclaim legacy space, or use fees as governments use 
taxes, we would be exceeding our authority IMO.  If, instead, we 
establish a transfer policy with reasonable restrictions on behaviors 
that negatively affect the community, we are certainly well within our 

> In any case I disagree with your claim. Different sectors and/or 
> national economies can be looked at as "natural experiments."
> You can look at the outcomes of individual cases -- where they perceived 
> to be "successful" and by whom, who were the winners and losers, how did 
> things look (x) years on, etc. -- all without getting stuck on how the 
> initiatives got started. If you find that the results varied under 
> different circumstances, then you can consider whether those results can 
> be explained (i.e., dismissed) based on the the particulars of who 
> initiated and drove the changes.

I agree, so I guess I wasn't claiming what you thought I was.  :)

>> Perhaps another angle would be to look at the dynamics of real-world
>> transfer markets.  I think the closest analogy would be to real estate.
>>  For starters, our situation is much like that of a number of
>> developing countries where residents didn't have title to their land.
>> In some cases, when they were given title, and a working system, and
>> were able to do all the good things you'd expect (buy & sell land, use
>> it as collateral for loans, etc.).  In other cases, the system didn't
>> work well, transactions were not recorded properly in the central
>> registry, no one knew exactly who had what, etc.  I'm not sure what
>> exactly the differences were between the systems that worked and those
>> that didn't, but I'm pretty sure a researcher could tease out the
>> distinctions and come up with some lessons for how to structure a
>> transfer system for IP addresses.
> Land is a great comparison -- but not in modern times, when ownership 
> and pricing is transparent, and there are lots of jobs other than being 
> a farmer, and political and economic self-determination are not 
> inextricably linked to land ownership. The right comparison is land, and 
> the role of land and land markets in the 19th century and earlier. 
> That's when land was "non-substitutable", just as IPv4 is today.

And I would certainly love to see the results of some analysis of the 
redistribution of land from feudal lords to private landholders. 
However, I don't think that the modern situation is any less relevant. 
You mentioned transparent ownership and pricing: I think both of those 
are achievable for IPv4 addresses.  As far as substitutability, I think 
we do have a viable substitute: IPv6.  It's not perfect, of course, but 
substitutes rarely are.

>> I don't claim to know how to do (or direct) research, but I
>> do know that we need to focus our attention on the things that are
>> relevant to what is possible under the RIRs policy development processes
>> (for now),
> This is potentially very useful advice. However, to operatioanlize it, 
> please clarify:

I can't fully specify the possible or the impossible, but I can give 
some illustrative examples.

> 1. what is possible under the RIR policy development process?

  - Any of the spectrum of transfer policies, including APNIC's 
wide-open one, RIPE's LIR-only one, or ARIN's more restrictive version.
  - Doing nothing, at least for awhile.
  - Some attempt at "soft landing", including policy forcing recipients 
to start transitioning to IPv6 to get more IPv4 space after a certain point.
  - etc...

> 2. what is impossible under the RIR policy development process?
Or, more particularly, what policies would be impossible for ARIN to 

  - Forcibly reclaiming addresses from legacy holders, or imposing 
substantial fees on them.
  - Imposing substantial fees on large IPv4 address holders (or 
substantial per-address fees across the board) in an attempt to 
encourage conservation.
  - Repurchasing addresses from current address holders to replenish the 
IPv4 free pool.  (Perhaps not completely impossible, but extremely 
  - etc...

> Or to be more pointed:
> 3. Is collective action still possible under the RIR policy development 
> process?

Yes, with limitations on what can be achieved by collective action, as 
described above.

> Once that is clarified, figuring out what is/is not relevant should be 
> easy enough...
>> and particularly on research whose outcomes include
>> recommendations for how we can improve our policies to help steer a
>> middle course between potential negative outcomes on both sides.
> That's definitely a goal that we share.

Yeah, it's nice that at least we all seem to be working for many of the 
same goals.


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