Wired are running a mini-series on the hot topic of net neutrality this week and their first installment is a useful overview of the issues. I could take issue with some of the points raised in that article, but here I’d like to focus on the conclusion that, ‘One way to prevent [an unfair playing field for Internet services] is through greater competition among ISPs.’
Even supposing there was wider agreement that more competition could help, it’s going to be hard for new entrants to the ISP business to get a foothold as the IPv4 addresses needed to connect subscribers to the Internet are close to being gone. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) in North America has fewer than 16 million IPv4 addresses left to allocate to new or existing ISPs and it is predicted that ARIN will run out of IPv4 addresses in less than eight months. Once ARIN is out, only 1 of the 5 global Internet number resource registries (AfriNIC, in Africa) will have any remaining IPv4 address space.
There is a solution to this seeming impasse, however. If more Internet content providers followed the lead of companies like Google, Facebook and Yahoo! in making their content available over IPv6, new entrants to the ISP marketplace wouldn’t need to worry so much about getting IPv4 resources to assign to their customers. As more content becomes available over IPv6, ISPs can more reliably deliver IPv4 connectivity via translation tools. Some mobile ISPs are already running in IPv6-only operation, demonstrating the viability of this approach.
The World IPv6 Launch initiative is reporting monthly on the growing number of major ISPs rolling out IPv6 connectivity to their subscribers around the world. There is a now a clear and compelling case that it is content providers that must do more to help deploy an Internet platform based on IPv6 that can cater for growing levels of competition and innovation at all levels of the stack.