Peter, Jonathan, and Don welcome your comments, critiques, and corrections!

4 03 2009



2 responses

9 03 2009
Tom Vest

Here’s one from the “critiques and corrections” department:

In your accompanying glossary, the entry for “IP” reads:
Internet protocol: a protocol used for communicating data across a packet-switched internetwork using the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP). The first major version of addressing structure, Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4), remains the dominant protocol of the Internet, although the successor, Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) is actively deployed worldwide.

It might be worthwhile to revisit the claim that IPv6 is “actively deployed worldwide.” Even in the handful of countries where IPv6 is implemented in any non-research capacity (e.g., China, Japan, France, the US to a much lesser degree…), this statement would be grossly misleading. Today, IPv6-based Internet access is absolutely unavailable to all but a small minority of enterprises in the aforementioned countries — and it is even less accessible to individual/”retail” Internet participants. At present, Google is the only major online content provider to make their core resources available to IPv6-connected users. A recent and fairly exhaustive overview of the current state of deployment is available here:

Given the fact that the older (IPv4) address pool is not yet completely depleted, one might be tempted to assume that the still-trivial levels of IPv6 deployment will jump dramatically once there is no easy recourse to the older, more familiar and developed standard. Alas, IPv6 is not independently backwards compatible with the IPv4-based Internet, which today is synonymous the (whole) Internet. In technical terms, that means that those who do not also have independent access to IPv4 addresses will not be able to independently interoperate with, or derive any benefit from, the existence of the built Internet as it is today.

Some people have suggested that incumbent IPv4-based Internet service providers will be happy to serve as brokers, or middlemen, or external providers of commercial “gateways services” between the established Internet and all future new entrants — but such requirements will effectively preclude the very possibility of new entry in the market for Internet service provision itself.

8 03 2009
Tom Vest


Thanks for the pointer, and congratulations on the new publication! I look forward to reading and commenting as appropriate in the days ahead.

My first instinct is to press on a couple of critical concepts that you highlight — modularity and interoperability — and to point out the potential for conflict between them. The capacity for interoperability is usually established through a priori (design stage) commitment to some established technical standard or protocol. In order to foster modularity, standards must be open / non-proprietary in a way that rarely occurs except when they are developed collaboratively. To the extent that this is true, however, the standards themselves — and the mechanisms from which open standards and hence the potential for modularity emerges — cannot be neatly internalized by individual market participants. In effect, sustainable modularity depends on the preservation of systems for collaborative standards development and maintenance that embody values (e.g., collaborative development, consensus building, willingness to be bound by past decisions, etc.) that are diametrically opposed to the values created and rewarded by modularity itself (e.g., solo innovation, total flexibility, winner-take-all competition, et al.).

This contradiction has profound real world implications at the present moment. Perhaps the single most important collaborative, open standard to date — i.e, the one that has contributed most to the fruitful coexistence of modularity and interoperability in the global ICT sector — is now under threat, and may soon be abandoned by many stakeholders, and as a result unattainable by the rest. The standard that I have in mind is the one that defines public IP addresses, which effective constitute the “business ends” of the globally distributed, demand-driven, ICT-based exchange mechanism that we call the Internet. The phenomenal growth of the Internet over the last two decades has nearly depleted the pool of (IPv4) addresses that has provided the foundation for all Internet expansion and evolution to date. Amongst incumbent Internet service providers, widespread aversion to the costs and complications of incorporating the chosen successor (IPv6) addressing standard has resulted in a series of formal industry decisions to effectively “modularize” (i.e., privatize) these formerly standards-governed, collaboratively administered IPv4 protocol resources.

The centrality of these increasingly (and if current trends continue, perpetually) scarce and absolutely critical but non-substitutable (a.k.a. “bottleneck”) resources as a prerequisite for actively participating in the global Internet gives them a significance and role not unlike that played by monetary gold during the Bretton Woods era. Of course, during that time it was illegal in most places for private interests and institutions to buy, sell, or own monetary gold. That prohibition was an artifact of the shared belief among monetary authorities that exposing the foundations of the global liquidity mechanism to direct speculative pressures would almost certainly undermine rather enhance the all-important liquidity function that the gold-backed international monetary system provided. In other words, liberalized trade in monetary gold would have made it much more difficult (expensive, uncertain, etc.) for *everyone* to sustain liberalized trade and investment in *every other* product and service market.

How long would the Bretton Woods system have lasted, and what kind of international trade and investment regime would likely have followed in the wake of its demise, had trade in gold been completely liberalized while it still provided the ultimate foundation for the world’s only global-scale liquidity mechanism? Keep an eye on the Internet in 2009-2011 — we may know the answer real soon now…

Tom Vest

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