The quasi-governmental organization that oversees the Internet has tentatively approved 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 because the U.S. has insisted 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 six months after ICANN grants final approval. But first, ICANN and the DotAsia Organization Ltd. will have to spend weeks or months ironing out contract details. The DotAsia group, which consists of domain name operators in Asian countries, also plans to explore permitting site addressess in Asian languages.
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, counter 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 object, fearing that such a domain would help governments filter their content.
ICANN's president, Paul Twomey, said the delay in a ".xxx" decision was largely procedural. The multigovernmental committee that weighs in on ICANN's international issues needed more time to review newly submitted documents, he said. Members also wanted to ensure that the proposed technical rules in ".xxx" could stick, he added.
Twomey said a decision on ".xxx" would likely come in the first few months of 2006.
"There is controversy with this application," he acknowledged, but added that the decision "is not a foregone conclusion with the board at all."
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 on the proposed ICANN-VeriSign deal. ICANN is due to complete a 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. 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, though the forum would have no binding authority.
In hopes of following up on that deal, ICANN's board sought to enhance the role of the same governmental advisory committee involved in the ".xxx" decision. But the steps announced in Vancouver are rather bureaucratic, with a "joint working group" established to improve communication and collaboration between the global governance committee and the rest of ICANN.
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