The African Network Information Centre (Afrinic) has confiscated over 6 million Internet Protocol addresses from controversial China-centred network service provider Cloud Innovation.
This trove of Internet Protocol (IP) resources was worth at least R1.8 billion on the open market, industry sources with knowledge of the IP reseller space told MyBroadband.
IP addresses are an essential and increasingly scarce resource.
For anyone to connect to the Internet or for any server to host content online, they need an IP address.
A block of IP addresses may be thought of as raw, undeveloped, Internet land.
Cloud Innovation is controversial in the African Internet community because of its hoard of IP addresses and because it appeared to mainly serve the Chinese market with these resources.
Although registered in the Seychelles, Cloud Innovation works hand in glove with a Hong Kong company called Larus Limited.
An analysis from Internet investigator Ron Guilmette in 2020 showed that around a sixth of Cloud Innovation’s IP address space was routed in Africa.
Afrinic’s seizure of the valuable IP addresses comes after Cloud Innovation launched legal action against the Internet registry in the Supreme Court of Mauritius and lost.
In a letter to members in May 2021, Afrinic CEO Eddy Kayihura stated that Cloud Innovation applied for an injunction after Afrinic informed the company that it breached its Registration Service Agreement.
Kayihura said that Afrinic provided Cloud Innovation with 30 days to remedy the breach, but the company elected instead to approach the court.
The application for injunction was set aside on 7 July, and the Afrinic board met the following day and decided to terminate Cloud Innovation’s membership with the organisation.
According to Kayihura, the board found that Cloud Innovation failed to honour its obligations under its Registration Service Agreement with Afrinic.
“The resources previously allocated to Cloud Innovation Ltd will be ‘frozen’ on the Afrinic WHOIS database,” Kayihura explained.
If IP addresses are Internet real estate, then Afrinic’s WHOIS database is like the deeds office for all of African and the Indian Ocean region.
“In order not to disrupt Internet connectivity of the relevant users especially in the current context of the Covid-19 pandemic, all affected users will exceptionally be granted a grace period of 90 days to consider other available options in their best interests,” he said.
“Consequently, the actual reclamation of the relevant number resources will occur following the expiry of the grace period.”
MyBroadband contacted Kayihura and Cloud Innovation founder Lu Heng for comment on the matter.
Both men said that they would only respond to questions in the coming week, as permitted by their respective lawyers.
However, Heng pointed to a posting on a public mailing list summarising the complaints of some Afrinic members about what is happening.
Based on the complaint posted online, Cloud Innovation is not the only network service provider to receive a notice from Afrinic stating that it is in breach of its original Registration Service Agreement.
According to these complaints, Afrinic argues that it can review IP address allocations if a company’s actual usage of a block of addresses no longer matches the original needs it justified its application with.
Afrinic has also reportedly stated that the Internet resources it allocates may not be used outside the African region.
The complainants dispute this.
When MyBroadband previously asked Heng about the controversy surrounding Cloud Innovation’s vast allocation of IP addresses, he said that there were no restrictions on how and where Afrinic-issued IP resources may be used until recently.
“That understanding [that Afrinic resources should be used in Africa] was not part of Afrinic policy until Afrinic began issuing from its final /8 [16 million addresses],” Heng stated.
“Cloud Innovation does not have any Afrinic address space from the final /8. While there is a widespread community perspective that this should be applied retroactively, no such policy has ever gained consensus in the Afrinic community.”
Heng said the claim that Cloud Innovation acquired this space “while African ISPs struggled to get more than a /20 (4,096 addresses) or even a /22 (1,024 addresses)” isn’t valid.
“At the time Cloud Innovation acquired our space from Afrinic, space was readily available to any provider with a justified need,” he said.
“Those struggles began after the soft landing policy kicked in, and Cloud Innovation has not received any space from Afrinic since that time.”
Heng added that there is consensus around the world that Regional Internet Registries like Afrinic are for registration purposes only.
“Routing is generally considered out of the scope of RIR policies. While some similar regional restrictive policies were proposed in almost all regions, none of them get passed,” he said.
“Moreover, we do realize the African Internet is underdeveloped, and we are doing everything we can to help Africa. Through our [Larus] foundation and other efforts, we have been working for years to widen participation in the policy process, especially by students and those just beginning their careers, to donate to African schools that need computers, and through other educational outreach.”
Cloud Innovation is fighting to keep the following blocks of IP addresses:
- 188.8.131.52/12 — 1,048,576 addresses
- 184.108.40.206/12 — 1,048,576 addresses
- 220.127.116.11/11 — 2,097,152 addresses
- 18.104.22.168/11 — 2,097,152 addresses
Queries to the Afrinic WHOIS database for these blocks returns the following message:
As a consequence of the termination of the Registration Service Agreement with Cloud Innovation Ltd, this IP prefix has been revoked from this Resource Member and it only exists as a placeholder record on WHOIS as of 8th July 2021 and will be deleted after 7th October 2021.
Kindly note that no further changes are possible for this Prefix (frozen/locked).
Users of this prefix and its child blocks, route objects and reverse DNS objects are advised to consider other available options before the said date.
This grace period of 90 days is a demonstration of the good faith of AFRINIC as a Regional Internet Registry to prevent sudden disruption to the Internet connectivity of the relevant users.