Before the Sky Falls Down: A ‘Constitutional Dialogue’ Over the Depletion of Internet Addresses
ANTICIPATING RISKS AND ORGANISING RISK REGULATION, pp. 46-67, Bridget Hutter, ed., Cambridge University Press 2010
22 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2016
Date Written: March 2010
Although it has not yet attracted much public attention outside of the technical community, the Internet is running out of addresses. According to current calculations, the pool of unallocated IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) addresses could dry out as soon as in spring 2012. Over the last years, the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), the five self-regulatory organizations for the Internet address space, have begun considering ways to mitigate the upcoming crisis. One of the proposals aims to create a market for allocated but unused address blocks. The idea of introducing a trading system for Internet addresses has evoked a heated controversy among the RIR membership. In this article, this debate will be presented with a focus on the various risks, which the opponents associate with each of the policy options under discussion.
In the context of Internet address space management, the prevention of risks has become a terrain of passionate conflicts. In light of the uncertainty over the actual consequences of the address space depletion, one may wonder what these struggles are about. The process of looking into the future, of making sense of unclear data and predicting risks has been described as creating "representations of the future" (Brown & Michael 2003) or "anticipatory frames" (Vogel 2008). Such concepts share the idea that the anticipation of dangers is performative in the sense that it highlights certain threats and privileges specific causal explanations and corresponding courses of action at the expense of others. Struggles over anticipatory frames may thus indicate competing aspirations to control the future (Giddens 1999), yet in the case of the Internet address policies they reveal more than that. They also reflect a "constitutional dialogue" (Douglas 1992) on the core institutions of Internet address management that need to be protected against future dangers. It is well known that the definition of risks "often takes the form of intense struggles" (Hilgartner 1992: 47). Beck (2008: 140) even argues that "conflicts of perspectives" constitute the "essence of risk". As I want to show for the area of Internet address management, such risks are neither simply given and waiting to be discovered, nor are they selected arbitrarily. Rather, they reflect (competing) notions of the public good and related governance structures.
Keywords: Risk, self-regulation, Internet addresses, cultural theory, constitutional dialogue, GigaNet
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