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
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.