The Internet Protocol is a data communication method that enables computers and other devices to transfer data to each other over numerous networks, many of which compose the Internet.
Developed in the 1990s by the Internet Engineering Task Force, IPv6 allows for an infinite number of web addresses, making it possible for every home appliance or device to be given its own address.
IPv4 only allows for four billion addresses.
"Not surprisingly, interest in IPv6 is gaining momentum around the world, particularly areas that have limited IPv4 address space to meet their industry and consumer communication needs," Davis said during a recent hearing, criticizing the slow rollout of IPv6. "Regions that have limited IPv4 address space, such as Asia and Europe, have undertaken aggressive efforts to deploy IPv6."
Karen Evans, administrator for electronic government and information technology at the Office of Management and Budget, said the transition to IPv6 has been challenging and could take several more years, drawing complaints from government officials that the United States is losing ground in cyberspace.
"The government is not taking this opportunity seriously," Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif, said. "We can take the lead in developing the Internet as we did 30 years ago, or we can wait for this evolution to pass us by and play catch-up."
Obstacles faced in migrating to IPv6 include security and privacy concerns, Evans told members of the committee.
"The overarching challenge facing us is ensuring continued uninterrupted functionality of federal agencies during the transition while providing continued and improved information assurance," Evans said.
In addition to providing more web address, IPv6 also provides header format simplification, support for extensions and options, flow labeling capability, built-in encryption, and a provision for "plug and play" configuration that will make it easier to create convergence among computers, mobile devices and appliances.
To hasten IPv6 rollout, the government has laid plans to issue a policy memorandum providing guidance to agencies to ensure an orderly and secure transition to the new protocol.
Evans said that a temporary date of June 2008 has been set for when the United States will complete IPv6 migration.
"Setting this firm date is necessary to maintain focus on this important issue," Evans said. "Once the network ‘backbones’ are ready, other elements, such as applications, will follow.”
An estimated budget for the move to IPv6 in the U.S. has not yet been released.
In December, China unveiled the China Education and Research Network, which is based on IPv6 technology. The rollout of CERNET2 is expected to provide a greater number of IP addresses to China, which until now, was overshadowed by the United State's nearly 75 percent dominance over the world's web addresses.
The adoption of the IPv6 standard is also expected to give way to a windfall of next-generation gadgets, mobile devices and computers that stand to benefit from IPv6's built-in encryption.