How to prevent governments from shutting down the Internet

Liquid Telecom’s Andrew Alston and Ben Roberts, along with Fiona Asonga of TESPOK, have submitted a policy proposal to AfriNIC on how to deal with governments shutting down the Internet.

AfriNIC – the African Network Information Centre – is responsible for the distribution and management of the IP address space (IPv4 and IPv6) and Autonomous System Numbers in Africa and the Indian Ocean region.

The submission states that over the past few years, “more and more” governments have shut down “free and open access to the Internet in order to push political and other agendas”.

“These shutdowns have been shown to cause economic damage and hurt the citizens of the affected countries,” states the proposal.

The solution

The proposed solution is that if a government orders the blocking of access to the general Internet, or attempts to restrict access to the Internet by a segment of the population, AfriNIC will not allocate resources to the government of the country.

“For a period of 12 months following the end of the shutdown, AfriNIC will allocate no resources to the government of the country. This also applies to all government-owned entities and entities that have direct provable relationships with said government.”

“In the event of a transfer policy existing, AfriNIC shall not assist or participate in any transfers to any of the entities above. All sub-allocations of space within said country involving the referred to entities shall equally cease for a period of 12 months.”

The proposal further states that if a government performs three or more shutdowns in a period of 10 years, “all resources to the aforementioned entities shall be revoked and no allocations to said entities shall occur for a period of 5 years”.

“We feel that the time has come for action to be taken, rather than just bland statements that have shown to have little or no effect,” states the proposal.

Plan of action

Alston told MyBroadband that submitting policy proposals to AfriNIC is open to anyone, after which they will be tabled for discussion.

“When the policy was authored, we knew that it wasn’t perfect and it would require some debate and discussion,” said Alston.

He said they will now gather feedback – some of which states that the current version is too broad – and release a new draft for further discussion.

“It’s an iterative process and hopefully it leads to consensus to get the policy passed by the community.”

“We may also look at adding an exception for academia for those countries where academia is directly state-controlled.”

In terms of the effect on countries which are denied resources by AfriNIC, Alston said no one really knows exactly what will happen until the measure is implemented.

“Unless a government requires more space in the 12 months following a shutdown, it probably won’t affect them terribly much,” he said.

“However, after the third shutdown, their resources would be revoked.”

“They would have to either go and source addresses elsewhere – they would turn to the secondary markets or get allocations from an ISP willing to give them the space – or they would effectively find themselves cut off the Internet.”

“If they did manage to get resources elsewhere, they would have to renumber their networks. Anyone who has ever renumbered a large network will know this is far from simple to accomplish.”

This article first appeared on MyBroadband and is republished with permission.

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How to prevent governments from shutting down the Internet

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