Saturday, 15 May 2010

The IP address scam?

OK, up front, this is probably not technically a scam. It's a whinge by me at a RIPE policy I don't like. It's my own opinion, as ever. Even so, A&A are RIPE members and so we are able to vote on policies so we are just as responsible for it. RIPE policy are the views of RIPE's members, though saying that is like saying every voter is responsible for everything the government does. Hopefully I have explained it simply enough for people to understand.

Before explaining the problem I need to explain how IP addresses work - don't worry, it is not really a technical issue at all...

Computers can talk to each other via various bit of technology (fibre, copper, modems, all sorts) and they can connect together to form a network. Generally they do this using Internet Protocol (IP). When they do, they have to know how to address each other - how to identify the computer they want to talk to. They do this using IP addresses. An IP address is just a number and not really anything special. Obviously the computers on a network need different addresses to each other, else you could not know which computer you are talking to when talking to an address. They have to be unique.

When networks are connected together to make an internet you need to make sure that all of the computers have different addresses. And if you connect them all together around the world to make the Internet then they all need a unique address.

Obviously if people just picked their own addresses, this would not work, so you need someone to take on the job of managing the addresses. This is important for the internet to work, but it is not done under some legal framework or government body like car number plates. It is done by organisations set up by mutual agreement of the network operators. IANA allocate addresses at the top level to regional registries like RIPE (the regional registry for Europe). RIPE allocate blocks to local registries (LIRs) like internet providers. Internet providers assign addresses to customers. Customers can pick which computers have which addresses on their network. Simples.

But it is worth pointing out we are just talking about number. They are not special. IANA don't own the addresses and neither do RIPE or the ISP or the customer. But if people do not agree then the internet does not work. We have to agree to only use some of the numbers and not clash with anyone else's numbers. All without any legal framework. So far that has worked, but we are heading full steam ahead in to the end stops with IPv4 addresses running out (forecast Sep 2010). Will such an informal arrangement still work in face of such issues? Will laws on IP address (mis)use be needed? Eeek!

OK, so where is the problem I am whinging about exactly?

Regional registries allocate two types of space - provider aggregated (PA) and provider independent (PI) space. PA is allocated to LIRs e.g. internet providers to assign to customers. PI is allocated directly to customers and is independent of the provider (as the name suggests).

PI space was free! It involved paperwork and the application for space was managed by an LIR/ISP, but once you got it you can use it. Bear in mind, as I keep saying, we are talking about numbers. Having an allocations does not create some legal right to use them or some legal right to stop others using them. It is just a number on a list. If RIPE are doing their one and only job they make sure they do not tell anyone else that they can use the same numbers. If they did, things would not work properly.

The problem is RIPE are now charging for PI space. This is where it looks like a scam - give someone something for free - wait for them to use it and find it useful - then throw in a charge for it later!

Bear in mind that RIPE don't have a contract with the customer. The LIR that sorted it may or may not have had a contract but may not now have one. The provider may not even exist now. As I said, RIPE don't even convey any legally enforceable right to the numbers so are not really providing anything useful other that their agreement not to give the same numbers to someone else later. But that is as much for the benefit of that someone else as it is to you.

If the customer does not contract with an LIR or RIPE then RIPE will delete the allocation and may issue it to someone else... WTF!
  • What if provider no longer exists
  • What if provider is not talking to customer any more
  • What if customer ignores letters from provider (after all, that was their old ISP)
  • What if customer thinks it is a scam letter from old provider - there are loads of scam letters like this,
  • What if customer thinks RIPE letter/email is a scam (after all, they never dealt with RIPE and may not have even heard of them)
  • What if customer just refuses on principle
At the end of the day the only thing RIPE can offer for their money is that they will not give the same numbers to someone else. Yet by taking back space from people (perhaps without them even knowing) they are breaking that one rule by having more than one customer thinking they have the right to use the same numbers. The new user of the numbers is not getting that exclusivity that they are now paying for.

Technical: Carriers often use RIPE records to filter announcements so for the most part the new owner will get most functionality and the old owner will get less.

And will this policy really save IP space? I doubt it will save enough to make any difference. Anyone that has PI and is not using it will pay anyway, if they have any sense, because trading IP space will mean they have a valuable asset they can sell. So this seems to be RIPE cashing in on IP trading rather than actually conserving space. A better policy might be to (with notice) remove PI space that is not being announced (i.e. being used in the internet).

So, end of whinge. If I have any of this wrong, please tell me!

If you can thing of other places that are like this and for which suddenly charging would be seen as wrong, let me know. I am finding analogies hard to find. It just feels wrong to me somehow.


  1. As an analogy, how about Royal Mail charging you to use your Postcode?
    It certainly sounds like a money-grabbing scam to me.
    If RIPE do their work without charging at the moment, why should that change? What has suddenly cost them money, that they have to recoup?
    (Who pays for them anyway?)
    Cheers, Howard

  2. According to the LIR we used, this charge has been in place for a while.... To quote the email that they sent out (giving 4 days notice to either agree to their payment terms, or find another LIR):

    XXXXXX are writing to you to inform you of the updates and changes that the RIPE Network Coordination Centre have implemented across their European operations. Following changes implemented by RIPE in policy 2007-01 all provider independent resource assignments (IPv4 PI addresses, IPv6 PI addresses, AS numbers) require an ongoing contract either with a Local Internet Registry (LIR) or a direct contract with RIPE, as well as an ongoing maintenance fee.

    For Ripe charges due for 2009 to 2010 XXXXXX have covered these costs for our customers but XXXXXX are now required to pass on these costs to the end user/customer for each allocation, and will be requesting customers with RIPE allocations to cover the appropriate RIPE periodical maintenance fee which will be collected by XXXXXX’s annual charge.

    XXXXXX are full members of Ripe NCC and as a customer with PI space allocated, you can take advantage of our LIR status to obtain address space or register any resources you have, without undertaking the investment in Ripe membership & associated costs. However you are free to register your allocation with any authorised LIR and there is no requirement for you to maintain your LIR contract solely with XXXXXX.

    Please note: XXXXXX are independent and any transit services will continue to be provided wherever you choose to maintain your enduser contracts.

    1. Should you wish XXXXXX to register your network allocation please complete the XXXXXX LIR registration form ( We will also need a scan of your company registration documents, or in the case of individuals we will require a scan of identification documents. Please send this to your XXXXXX account manager or alternatively
    on or before 01 March 2010.

    2. Should you not wish XXXXXX to register your network allocation please let us know so that we can instruct RIPE, this will allow you to register your agreement elsewhere, please note that RIPE intend to reclaim any resources that are not covered by contract

    All annual fees will be billed as per each customers and will include the Customer account number and RIPE reference details on all customer invoices.
    As all fees XXXXXX will incur are subject to RIPE NCC charging policy, these will remain unchanged until further notice.