The African Internet community is abuzz following a proposal to allow organisations in sub-Saharan countries better access to their own portable Internet address and that the region be handled as a special case.

This follows a proposal posted on the American Registry for Internet Numbers (Arin) Web site, to allow the requirements for individual or portable Internet addresses to be lowered as the region makes up a tiny portion of the addresses and cannot meet the minimum criteria.

It is also part of a broader move to take the administration and allocation of IP addresses away from Arin to be handled by the African Numbered Internet Corporation (AfriNIC) ­ an organisation now being formed and to be hosted in Johannesburg. The transition is expected to take two years.

The proposal came out of a meeting of Internet service providers (ISPs) in the Arin region that attended an AfriNIC meeting held during iWeek last month. It proposes that the minimum allocation size for portable IP addresses for the Africa region be increased from 20 to 22.

"The reason for a proposed change to the Arin policy is to allow a significant African organisation, such as a large bank, to have its own portable address," says Calvin Browne, chairman of the Internet Society of SA. "However, such an African organisation would not qualify under the current Arin rules, because it does not have the required number of its own unique IP addresses ­ unlike its counterparts in the US. "

A portable IP address means that an organisation would keep its own IP address irrespective of the ISP it uses for Internet connectivity. This means the organisation could have more than one ISP, allowing it to find the fastest network for messaging and other Internet uses.

However, the proposal has stirred up debate within Arin as a similar proposal, although not one specifically aimed at Africa, was floored in 2003.

Browne says the proposal has split Arin into two camps. The first supports the proposal as it feels that Arin should not dictate policy to its Africa region as it prepares to move its Internet address registration to AfriNIC. The opposite camp believes that Africa should not be treated as a special case even though it is much smaller than the economies and Internet usage found in other regions such as North America. A ruling on the proposal is expected late this month.