The end of the Internet as we know it

Posted on February 22, 2011

YOU COULD call it cyber irony.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is one of the proponents for freer and wider Internet access.
In her speech at the George Washington University on Feb. 15, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for freer and wider Internet access especially in the world’s most politically-charged territories.

To support the initiative against what she called “Internet repression,” Ms. Clinton announced that the US government would bankroll $25 million in additional funding to help spur the development of Internet-related technologies, tools and training.

This comes on top of the $20 million in grants awarded by the US over the last three years for this purpose.

“The dramatic increase in Internet users during the past 10 years has been remarkable to witness. But that was just the opening act. In the next 20 years, nearly five billion people will join the network,” Ms. Clinton said, sharing her rosy estimate of the size of the future’s army of netizens.

As a gauge of how big five billion is, keep in mind that today’s global population stands at almost seven billion.

Her speech was seen by many as the most detailed recognition from the world’s remaining superpower to date of the role of the Internet and related technologies in global politics.

Zeroing in on recent events in Iran and Egypt, Ms. Clinton said: “In both of these countries, the ways that citizens and the authorities used the Internet reflected the power of connection technologies on the one hand as an accelerant of political, social, and economic change, and on the other hand as a means to stifle or extinguish that change.”

Ironically, her speech of an upbeat Internet future came at a time when the technology itself is going through a major overhaul.

The Internet that we are using today is already exhausted.

In fact as of Feb. 3, Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) reported that the “pool of the first-generation Internet addresses has been completely emptied.”

ICANN is a nonprofit corporation that coordinates the Internet naming system.

The original Internet Protocol or IPv4 that was developed in the early 1980s had a capacity of only 3.7 billion IP addresses.

At the time of its creation, the founders of the Internet thought that the allocation was more than enough for the experiment.

“Today, none of those 3.7 billion IPv4 addresses remain unallocated,” said ICANN on a statement posted on its Web site.

As a solution, Internet stakeholders are pushing for IPv6 adoption.

“Compared to IPv4’s 32-bit address space of four billion addresses, IPv6 has a 128-bit address space, which is 340 undecillion addresses -- that’s not a number you hear every day,” according to ICANN.

Still, if the people from ICANN are to be believed, Internet users from the world over should not worry.

“No one was caught off guard by this. The Internet technical community has been planning for IPv4 depletion for some time,” said ICANN president and chief executive Rod Beckstrom.

The assurance from ICANN came amid reports speculating doomsday scenarios that could be likened to that of the Y2K or the millennium bug at the turn of the century.

“But it means the adoption of IPv6 is now of paramount importance, since it will allow the Internet to continue its amazing growth and foster the global innovation we’ve all come to expect,” Mr. Beckstrom added.

With no alternative, it better be.

As Ms. Clinton put it in her recent speech: “The choices we make today will determine what the Internet looks like in the future.” -- Maricel E. Estavillo