It seems everywhere I turn, there's someone throwing around statistics for how the Internet and broadband will drive economic growth, create jobs, end world hunger and bring world peace (ok, maybe not the later). Sure enough, government officials are buying into that rhetoric and extending it in initiatives like national broadband strategies, cybercrime and cybersecurity plans as well as e-governance strategies.
Often missing from these initiatives (particularly in the ICT strategies of most developing countries) is an explicit analysis of the role and impact of IP resources towards the success of the initiative. A gross simplification of the how the Internet works is that it is a network of networks (inter-net). Each network is comprised of nodes (servers and clients) identified primarily by IP address (e.g. one of Google's search servers is 220.127.116.11 and 2a00:1450:4007:808::100). All the addresses for a given network are identified as belonging to an Autonomous System Number (ASN). These ASNs identify individual networks and are required for one network to communicate with another network. This typically happens using what network engines call the BGP routing protocol.
Therefore, you cannot have an independent Internet identity for your network if you don't have both your own IP address space and ASN. Governments typically will own many networks. Networks for datacenters which power online government services, user networks that power the work of the agents of government, networks to facilitate research and education (typically called Research and Education Networks) and even networks for things like surveillance aka national security. I'll call on governments particularly in developing countries to go the extra step and secure the IP addresses and an ASNs required to have complete control of their networks.
So you might ask, lots of governments are doing just fine today without having IP address space and ASNs, how are they functioning on the Internet? The answer is that they are using the IP address resources of an Internet Service Provider which connects them to the Internet. There are several reasons this might not be an effective thing to do and here are some:
The last scenario is most likely to happen within the country. Imagine a country with several large ISPs who naturally are in competition with each other. The government happens to be a client of one of those ISPs (a very dependent client if that government doesn't have its own IP resources). Despite the competition amongst the ISPs, users of all the networks might still need access to government services that reside on the network of a competitor. It so happens that a tactic of such competitiveness might be hostile treatment of a competing ISPs traffic (throttle traffic to or from a competitors network and give your own users an advantage). You could end up with a situation where large sections of the population are unable to access government online services. As an aside governments should be impartial to businesses in the country and not let themselves be wittingly used as pawns in competitive games of various ISPs - the best way to ensure this is for the government to have its own IP identity (IPv4 space, IPv6 space, ASNs), get physical connectivity from one or more ISPs and then peer with all other ISPs ideally an Internet Exchange Point.
Of course, many government networks in developing countries use network address and port translation (NAT) on their internal networks. This has quite a few bad consequences that we'll explore in another post. So here is what I'd advocate for any government and particularly those in Africa.
Going back to the opening, a good IP resource strategy is key to realising the broadband initiatives of a country, as well as driving the use of the Internet as development too. Without more IP addresses, IP-address poor countries (think most African and Asia Pacific countries) will never sustainably realise their universal broadband ambitions (and can kiss goodbye to that 0.3% GDP growth that results from doubling broadband speed). Without a good IP resource strategy, it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to protect the Internet from abuse by criminals. Without a good IP resources strategy, a government cannot assure that the Internet will continue to grow and be accessible to all its citizens. Make sure your national ICT strategies explicitly includes and IP resources strategy.
By Mukom Akong Tamon, Chief Excellence Officer™ | Certified in IPv6, 4DX Strategy Execution, Lean Si. Mukom works for a Regional Internet Registry (RIR). Everything he writes are his opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers, past, present or future.
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