Nearly forty years ago, Hank Magnuski, KA6M, and other visionary hams saw the future possibilities of the coming Internet and, realizing the potential of TCP/IP for amateur radio, obtained an address allocation from Dr. Jon Postel, at that time the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).
That allocation to AMPRnet comprised more than sixteen million IPv4 addresses, 18.104.22.168 through 22.214.171.124, conventionally written as 126.96.36.199/8.
The ownership and management of those addresses was passed to an informal group of hams, including Phil Karn KA9Q, Wally Lindstruth WA6JPR [RIP], and lastly, around 1985, Brian Kantor, WB6CYT [RIP].
In 2011, at the urging of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) and others, we formed a Board of Directors of highly-qualified individuals and incorporated our informal group, “Amateur Radio Digital Communications” (ARDC), as a non-profit public benefit corporation under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS rules. ARDC is recognized by IANA, ARIN, and the other Internet Registries as the sole owner of the AMPRNet. Relevant corporate documents may be found on our web site, www.ampr.org.
(Now that we are receiving significant investment income from our address sale, in 2021 we will transition to a private grant-making foundation required to disburse at least 5% of our total assets each year, on average.)
In the 30+ years we’ve had this allocation, thousands of hams have been assigned single or
small blocks of addresses on a long-term loan (essentially a zero-cost lease) so they may experiment with Internet-related Amateur Radio digital communications, ranging from simple TCP/IP connectivity through radio and wireless techniques, digital voice, telemetry, repeater linking, and related endeavors. Some very interesting and worthwhile research and practical applications have been carried out by hams using these network address resources.
Yet the Amateur Radio community has never used much more than half the available addresses, even at peak interest between 1988-1995. These days, less than one third of the address space is assigned and in use. Large chunks have almost never been used, and we conclude that they never will be used.
Around 2011, the pool of available Internet addresses began to contract rapidly and the resulting scarcity led to a market for Internet addresses. The first large sale was a part of a reorganization of assets with a transfer of a block of addresses from Nortel Communications to Microsoft Corp for a substantial sum of money. Market observers have noted the steadily increasing value of address blocks, and that trend might continue for a while.
Thus the AMPRNet address block has a large and increasing value. But this won’t continue forever; as IPv6 adoption continues, IPv4 addresses (including AMPRnet) will eventually decrease in value. In other words, we had a limited window of time to act.
After many months of consideration and discussion, we decided to sell the unused address block 188.8.131.52/10 (the top one quarter of the original assignment) and establish an endowment to fund our program of grants and scholarships in support of communications and networking research with a strong emphasis on Amateur Radio. This will be in addition to the continuing operation of the AMPRnet.
We concluded this sale in mid 2019 at an excellent price. It was the right time for several reasons: a recent leveling off in address prices and lessening demand as few large buyers remain for such large address blocks.
This leaves some twelve million addresses (three quarters of the original) still devoted exclusively to AMPRnet. This is still far more than the number of addresses that have ever been used, or we believe will be used before IPv6 takes over the Internet.
We intend to make grants across the educational, research, and development spectrum. Awards are being made to support qualified organizations whose programs can advance the art of digital communication, with special emphasis on that which would benefit Amateur Radio.
Additionally, we may contract with research firms and consultants to carry out related research and development to produce procedures, techniques, methods, designs, and intellectual property that would then be made freely available for the benefit of all. We may also consider “buying out” certain existing intellectual property for the same purpose.
The ARDC Board of Directors
- Phil Karn, KA9Q
- K. C. Claffy, KC6KCC
- John Gilmore, W0GNU
- Bdale Garbee, KB0G
And a few of our supporting advisors
- Hank Magnuski, KA6M
- Skip Hansen, WB6YMH
- Bill Horne, W4EWH
- John Ricketts, KI5D
- Jann Traschewski, DG8NGN
- Paul Vixie, KI6YSY
How much netspace did you sell?
About four million contiguous addresses. 184.108.40.206/10.
Why did you sell?
IPv4 addresses have become scarce and incredibly valuable. But this won’t last forever, because IPv6 will eventually resolve the problem. We weren’t ever going to use the 44.192/10 block, so by selling it now while it’s still valuable we could fund a lot of worthwhile ham and Internet projects.
How much money did you get for them?
We agreed to not publish the exact amount until our first federal tax filing (nonprofit tax returns are public). But we sold a /10, i.e., 4 million addresses, and this article says the price per address in 2018 was about $17 and rising. You do the math. (We sold in mid 2019.)
Who bought them?
A very big company with a significant internet presence.
What are you going to do with the money?
We are establishing a program of grants and scholarships that will promote the art and science of digital communications including Amateur Radio. We will also pay for some of the AMPRnet operational support that had previously been done by volunteers, including our founder, the late Brian Kantor. This should give AMPRnet users a more consistent level of service.
How do I get some of that money?
The grants we’ve made so far have been proposed and approved by the Board. We’re establishing guidelines and procedures for soliciting more broadly applications for grants and scholarships, which we expect to run in parallel with Board-initiated grants. Because of IRS regulations, initially we’ll only be able to give money to registered 501(c)(3) tax exempt public benefit groups and to nonprofits in other countries whose tax laws the lawyers certify are comparable to those of the US. Later when we’ve got more people to handle the immense amount of official paperwork required, we might be able to fund others as well.
What about the hams? Aren’t they going to need those addresses someday?
Extremely doubtful. The hams still have over 12 million addresses and are using far fewer than half of those.
The four million we sold haven’t been needed in the last thirty-plus years. The growth trend of the internet shows that IPv6 is clearly the future, so in some number of years those IPv4 addresses would not only decline in value, but no longer be needed. They are definitely a time-limited asset.
Who decided to sell these? I didn’t get to vote on it.
Amateur Radio Digital Communications owns the original AMPRNet address space and the Board of Directors (all hams) made the unanimous decision after discussing it for more than a year. We would have liked to make the process more public, but all the potential buyers demanded confidentiality for such a large transaction.
Who are the recipients of your grants?
Who is going to decide who gets grants?
Initially, the ARDC Board of Directors. We’re forming a grant review committee to screen applications when we solicit them more generally.
There are a whole bunch of IRS and other regulations that we have to obey in doing this; especially after Brian’s sudden passing we’re still coming up to speed and we’re consulting legal counsel all along the way. We want to be fair about it as much as we can, but in evaluating proposals for future work, there will always be elements of hope and guesswork.
To be continued…