The upcoming election for the board of our regional IP address controller, the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), is plagued with accusations of bullying, intimidation tactics, and misinformation as a reform group attempts to radically change the internet authority.

On Tuesday, APNIC announced it was bringing in law firm Maddocks to oversee the elections following “credible and serious reports” of its members “receiving threatening anonymous phone calls demanding silence on election issues”.

“This behaviour is completely unacceptable and APNIC denounces it in the strongest possible terms. The threatening calls are being reported to law enforcement agencies,” APNIC said.

Information Age has seen one of these reports in which an APNIC member claims they answered the phone and were told “keep your mouth closed about APNIC. You will lose”.

Last week the organisation found one of the nominees for its executive council had breached its code of conduct by sending unsolicited emails to a member using information that was “highly unlikely to be obtained from any source other than the APNIC Member list or Whois data”.

APNIC is one of five regional internet registries (RIRs) set up to allocate internet resources like the increasingly scarce IPv4 addresses.

In 2019, the APNIC board began restricting the supply of IPv4 addresses, rationing the last remaining block of 16.7 million addresses to prolong its inevitable exhaustion.

APNIC now allocates just small blocks of 512 addresses.

Shrinking supply has created an active secondary market for IPv4 addresses which in the last month have sold for an average price of around $64 (US$44) each.

Next week’s vote for half the seats on the organisation’s executive council is hotly contested with a group of would-be reformers associated with Hong Kong millionaire Lu Heng’s company Larus Limited.

Larus is an IP address brokerage and leasing company whose APNIC candidates are campaigning on a platform to reduce membership fees, move APNIC’s headquarters from Brisbane to Singapore, and restructure the organisation so “businesses are free to run unhindered”.

Larissa Santos, one of Larus Limited’s nominees, was the subject of APNIC’s code of conduct breach. Larus has been contacted for comment.

Some APNIC members are actively campaigning against Larus’s influence, including nominee Rob Thomas who said he is concerned a “misguided group” wants to “effectively remove all controls and restrictions over IP address allocations” in order to hasten the depletion of IPv4 addresses, pushing up their price.

“This can’t be a good situation for anyone, except for those who have a vested interest in selling IP addresses,” Thomas said.

Speaking with Information Age, Lu Heng accused the RIRs of controlling the internet, going as far as to say APNIC is being run like a dictatorship.

“The RIRs were created in the 1980s to guarantee uniqueness,” he said. “This problem can be solved now with blockchain and other technologies.”

Heng called RIRs “obsolete” and said he “doesn’t have a dog in the fight” over their operation.

“I’m doing this to make better governance,” Heng told Information Age. “I want to be remembered in 100 years as the person who progressed the internet to a decentralised state.”

Heng’s company Cloud Innovation has previously taken legal action against the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) after it stripped the company of allocated IP addresses, claiming Cloud Innovation breached the service agreement by on-selling IP addresses outside the African continent.

The company was also denied allocation from the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) because Clound Innovation failed to provide street addresses for its customers. Heng claims he withdrew the application.