IPv6: Politics of the Next Generation Internet

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Virginia Tech

IPv6, a new Internet protocol designed to exponentially increase the global availability of Internet addresses, has served as a locus for incendiary international tensions over control of the Internet. Esoteric technical standards such as IPv6, on the surface, appear not socially significant. The technical community selecting IPv6 claimed to have excised sociological considerations from what they considered an objective technical design decision. Far from neutrality, however, the development and adoption of IPv6 intersects with contentious international issues ranging from tensions between the United Nations and the United States, power struggles between international standards authorities, U.S. military objectives, international economic competition, third world development objectives, and the promise of global democratic freedoms. This volume examines IPv6 in three overlapping epochs: the selection of IPv6 within the Internet's standards setting community; the adoption and promotion of IPv6 by various stakeholders; and the history of the administration and distribution of the finite technical resources of Internet addresses. How did IPv6 become the answer to presumed address scarcity? What were the alternatives? Once developed, stakeholders expressed diverse and sometimes contradictory expectations for IPv6. Japan, the European Union, China, India, and Korea declared IPv6 adoption a national priority and an opportunity to become more competitive in an American-dominated Internet economy. IPv6 activists espoused an ideological belief in IPv6, linking the standard with democratization, the eradication of poverty, and other social objectives. The U.S., with ample addresses, adopted a laissez-faire approach to IPv6 with the exception of the Department of Defense, which mandated an upgrade to the new standard to bolster distributed warfare capability. The history of IPv6 includes the history of the distribution of the finite technical resources of "IP addresses," globally unique binary numbers required for devices to exchange information via the Internet. How was influence over IP address allocation and control distributed globally? This history of IPv6 explains what's at stake economically, politically, and technically in the development and adoption of IPv6, suggesting a theoretical nexus between technical standards and politics and arguing that views lauding the Internet standards process for its participatory design approach ascribe unexamined legitimacy to a somewhat closed process.

Internet History, Computer Networking, Globalization, Internet Governance, Technology Standards, Internet Protocols