August 1, 2008

Commentary: Tech Talk: The Internet is Running Out of IP Addresses

By Larry Fiorino

Upon first gaining popularity, the Internet appeared to have boundless opportunities for growth. Millions of people were logging on for the first time as thousands of Web sites were launched onto the World Wide Web.

Despite what was first believed, the United States is now nearing growth capacity as the number of available Internet Protocol (IP) addresses continues to decline. More than 85 percent of the available IP addresses have been assigned, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) believes by 2011, all addresses will be claimed.

If all available addresses are eventually allocated, Web site creation will halt and the Internet will not be able to support new content. But there is a new system known as IPv6 which upgrades aging IP addresses to numerical addresses and allows for several billion additional addresses.

The United States' Internet infrastructure, which hosts the nearly 4 billion IP addresses and IPv6 addresses for consumer and corporate use, has also become a problem as Web sites increasingly demand more bandwidth. The infrastructure is unable to adequately support the demand, leaving users with slower Internet service and the likelihood of an increasing number of outages.

Without reliable infrastructure, technical and business innovation will suffer. The existing connections will be unable to support the next YouTube or MySpace application let alone the development of online high-definition programming.

Currently, it is possible to upgrade the aging infrastructure by switching the existing copper wire to fiber optic connections, but the conversion carries a price tag of nearly $55 billion. So far, legislators and telecommunication providers are unwilling to take responsibility for the upgrade.

Consequently, some providers, such as Verizon, have taken the initiative to lay cables in specific areas and communities.

The new fiber optic lines not only allow for higher bandwidth sites but also increase the transfer rate of megabytes per second dramatically.

The issues confronting the Internet could have an impact on future usage and development. Luckily, the technology does exist to remedy the problems. The remaining issue is making a commitment to improve the Internet with the resources we have.

Larry Fiorino, the founder and chief executive of G.1440, a Baltimore-based e-solutions firm, writes every week for The Daily Record. He can be reached at 410-843-3800 or at his company's Web site,

Originally published by Larry Fiorino.

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