The Obama Administration bills itself as the most tech-savvy political team ever, but until now it has ignored one of the biggest issues facing the Internet: the rapid depletion of Internet addresses using the current protocol, known as IPv4, and the imminent need for carriers and content providers to adopt a new standard called IPv6.
Today, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will host a workshop on IPv6 that features high-profile executives from government, industry and Internet policymaking organizations.
This workshop is the first time the Obama Administration has given IPv6 any publicity in the 21 months it has been in office. Indeed, government insiders say Federal CIO Vivek Kundra didn't ask them about agencies' progress on IPv6 until last week, when he began preparing for NTIA's workshop.
IPv6 is the biggest upgrade in the 40-year history of the Internet. Forward-looking carriers and enterprises are deploying IPv6 because the Internet is running out of IP addresses using the current standard, known as IPv4.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices - 2 to the 128th power.
About 94.5% of IPv4 address space has been allocated as of 3 September, 2010, according to the American Registry for Internet Numbers, which delegates blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses to carriers and enterprises in North America. Experts say IPv4 addresses could run out as early as December but will certainly be gone by the end of 2011.
The Obama Administration's silence on IPv6 has stood in stark contrast to the Bush Administration, which was aggressive in setting IPv6-related goals during its tenure.
In 2005, the Bush Administration's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) established and ultimately met a deadline of June 30, 2008 for all federal agencies to demonstrate IPv6 capabilities on their backbone networks.
The Bush Administration also created an IPv6 testing and certification process for IT products that is managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Also in 2005, Bush officials proposed a change to the Federal Acquisition Regulations that requires agencies to purchase IPv6-enabled hardware and software; the law went into effect July 2010.
An NTIA official said the Commerce Department agency has been working behind the scenes with Internet policymaking and technical bodies regarding IPv4 depletion and the need to deploy IPv6. The IPv6 workshop is the first chance the agency has had to raise the visibility of the issue within the Obama Administration and across US industry overall.