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ICANN gives tentative OK to '.asia' domain

The quasi-governmental organization that oversees the Internet has given tentative approval for a ".asia" Web domain to unify the Asia-Pacific community.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The quasi-governmental organization that oversees the Internet has given tentative approval for a ".asia" Web domain to unify the Asia-Pacific community, but the group has delayed a decision on whether to move forward with a ".xxx" zone for pornography sites.

At its annual meeting this past weekend in Vancouver, British Columbia, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers took up several topics related to the global administration of the Internet, which has become a heated topic in light of U.S. insistence on maintaining oversight.

The new ".asia." domain would supplement suffixes available for individual countries, such as ".cn" for China and ".jp" for Japan. ICANN earlier approved ".eu" for the European Union; registrations for that begin Wednesday.

Registrations for English-language names in ".asia" could begin as early as six months after ICANN grants final approval. But first, ICANN and the DotAsia group will have to spend weeks or months ironing out contract details. The DotAsia Organization Ltd., which consists of groups that currently run domain names for China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries, also plans to explore permitting domain names in Asian languages under ".asia."

Separately, ICANN delegates discussed methods for allowing new Web addresses to be created in Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic and other alphabets instead of the Latin script used in English. The technical tweaks required are complicated, but a test run is expected to begin shortly, ICANN spokesman Andrew Robertson said.

On more contentious topics, however, ICANN put off decisions.

Before the meeting began last week, discussion of a voluntary ".xxx." domain for adult entertainment sites was removed from the agenda.

The idea has been floated by ICM Registry Inc. of Jupiter, Fla., which argues that such a domain would help the $12 billion online porn industry clean up. Those using the domain, which ICM would administer, would have to agree not to deploy such trickery as spam and malicious software programs.

Anti-porn advocates, however, countered that sites would be free to keep their current ".com" address, in effect making porn more easily accessible by creating yet another channel to house it. Many porn sites also objected, fearing that such a domain would help governments filter their content.

There was no action yet on a dispute over the relationship between ICANN and VeriSign Inc. _ which runs the main database for the ".com" and ".net" slices of the Internet.

Under a proposed contract renewal with ICANN, VeriSign could raise prices for ".com" names by 7 percent a year beginning in 2007, an increase that could generate $17 million for VeriSign in the first year. The deal also would increase a separate per-name fee to fund ICANN's operations.

Two lawsuits have been filed attacking the relationship, accusing VeriSign and ICANN of price-fixing and other anticompetitive practices.

The controversy provoked vocal debate at the ICANN meeting, leading the group's chairman, Vint Cerf, to extend until Wednesday a deadline for interested parties to submit comments about the ICANN-VeriSign relationship. ICANN is then due to report back to VeriSign by Sunday.

Discontent over the United States' control of the Internet's root servers — the computers that act as the Internet's master traffic cops — has been growing of late. Pakistan and other countries have sought a takeover of that system by an international body such as the United Nations.

Negotiators at a U.N. summit in Tunisia last month tried to address such demands by creating an open-ended international forum in which international Internet issues could be aired. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.

In hopes of following up on that deal, ICANN's board sought to enhance the role of its governmental advisory committee, whose international members weigh in on Internet issues. But the steps announced in Vancouver appear rather bureaucratic, with a "joint working group" established to "improve communication links and collaboration processes" between the global governance committee and the rest of ICANN.