The legal conflict between AFRINIC, Africa’s regional internet registry, and network provider Cloud Innovation is threatening the development of the internet in Africa, say ICT industry insiders who are calling for a ceasefire and more transparency into how IP addresses are assigned.
In July, AFRINIC’s bank accounts were frozen by the Supreme Court of Mauritius, where it is based, over its attempt to confiscate millions of IP addresses from Cloud Innovation, an AFRINIC member. AFRINIC had accused Cloud Innovation of misuse of the IP addresses by assigning them to Chinese entities rather than African organisations. In turn, Cloud Innovation brought a lawsuit against AFRINIC. Cloud Innovation’s founder is Chinese entrepreneur Heng Lu.
AFRINIC manages the allocation and registration of internet resources within Africa. It is a non-profit, non-governmental internet governance organization. Following the freeze on its accounts, other members of the AFRINIC network have appealed for donations for the registry, stating that the registry will not be able to meet its financial obligations due to the court litigation.
“As a broader community, we are dependent on this registry, whose service of allocating and registering Internet Number Resources (IPv4, IPv6 and ASN) has enabled communication for the development and growth of the Internet in the African region,” said the trade group Technology Service Providers of Kenya (TESPOK), in a statement.
Legal feud harms internet, ICT leaders say
Various ICT leaders in the sector are raising an alarm, saying that this feud will degrade internet development in the region.
“The decision was undertaken without the appropriate risk assessment of how it could impact the region,” said Vincentas Grinius, CEO at IPXO, an all-in-one Internet Protocol marketplace.
Some industry insiders say that in confiscating IP addresses, AFRINIC went beyond its mandate, and this could weaken Africa’s connectivity efforts and enterprise communications capabilities on the continent.
On the other hand, the Internet Governance Project, a public policy institute at Georgia Tech that researches global internet governance, has defended the move by AFRINIC as an organization trying to rectify years of under-the-table deals in assigning IP addresses.
“In fact, this crisis was caused by its attempt to clean up its act. If AFRINIC is guilty of anything, in this case, it is an overly aggressive assertion of policy righteousness based on bad policy ideas, which blew up in its face,” IGP said in a report.
AFRINIC IP address allocation is problematic
AFRINIC’s allocation of IP addresses has been problematic for some time, according to several reports. In its own audit report, released in January, AFRINIC admitted that “2,371,584 of IPv4 addresses were, without any lawful authority, misappropriated from AFRINIC’s pool of resources and attributed to organisations without any justification.”
Millions of other IP addresses are also under investigation, set to be reclaimed or compromised, the audit report said.
The AFRINIC audit report followed a 2019 investigation and report that suggested that former AFRINIC CEO Ernest Byaruhanga was involved in the theft and sale of IP addresses. Byaruhanga resigned just before the report, based on research by internet investigator Ron Guilmette, was published.
Though it is now attempting to rectify past wrongs, AFRINIC’s decision to seize Cloud Innovation IP addresses spotlighted a long-standing problem — the lack of standardization of policies, governing IP addresses, for the RIR to follow, IPXPO’s Grinius said.
“It may have seemed unlikely for some that the decision of one party, paired with the inconsistencies in regulatory standards, could shake up the already established internet ecosystem. Yet what we have now is a rising threat not only for businesses operating in the region but also for the stability of the entire internet in Africa,” he added.
ICT leaders suggest de-escalation of legal spat
The matter has caught the eye of many industry players and the longer it takes to resolve legal issues, the more unstable Africa’s internet development will be, they say. IGP requests the de-escalation of the spat between the two main actors.
“Once Cloud Innovation ends the legal arms race, AFRINIC must back off of its excessive demands for reclaiming all of Cloud Innovation’s address resources and make its claim of a policy violation clear and its proposed remedies more proportionate,” IGP recommended in its report.
Grinius is championing the establishment of commercial, for-profit RIRs, which could create stable business models. Recently, IPXO introduced the first fully automated IP leasing and monetization platform, which will be the basis for unifying RIR policies and launching the first commercial RIR. The platform is fully compliant and adheres to each RIR’s policies, he said.
He said business-driven IP management could be the catalyst that would facilitate scaling and make the industry more sustainable and “equipped for the modern-day”.
“This is what we aim to achieve—to provide solutions that will foster innovation, starting with the IP leasing market,” he said.
He emphasized the need for greater oversight and common policies for all regional internet registries. “From the businesses’ point of view, internet registries’ policy unification will be a powerful solution for companies experiencing IP shortage issues. But it carries way greater significance for the industry as a whole, as it will bring in more transparency and accountability,” he added.