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ICANN to consider three new domains

A recommendation to further expand the Internet namespace comes as the group prepares to evaluate last year's addition of seven new top-level domains.

A key Internet address administrator has recommended taking steps to add three new top-level domains to the Web's navigation system.

Stuart Lynn, president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) published a recommendation last week proposing preparations begin for a new expansion of the Net namespace even as the group prepares to evaluate the effects of a similar expansion implemented last year. The report did not recommend the specific top-level domains to be considered.

"This proposal provides the (ICANN) board with the option, should it so wish to do so, of extending the original "proof of concept" to solicit up to three more sponsored (top-level domains), subject to certain conditions, following a suitable, but short, bidding process," Lynn wrote. "Applicants for sponsored (top-level domains) from the previous round would be invited to update their proposals and resubmit them, but new proposals would also be invited."

Top-level domains provide the largest building blocks of the Web's address system, giving architects general categories such as .com, .edu, and .gov to organize sites. In September 2000, ICANN approved seven additions to the original pool of five Net names. Domain names can also be registered under dozens of country top-level domains such as .uk and .us. In addition, U.S. lawmakers have sought to add a .kids domain for family-friendly sites.

In late 2000, when the dot-com bubble had reached its bursting point and domain name registrations boomed, domain name expansion was considered an important step for the health of the address system. Now, however, the call for new domains has ebbed as thousands of names return unrenewed to the pool of available domains.

The collapse of the domain-name real estate market has raised competitive pressure among registrars, some of which have begun to trade accusations of unfair marketing practices in recent months.

The top-level domain name recommendations follow a reorganization of ICANN that included a contentious decision to remove a slate of publicly elected members from the board. The new plan also carves out a greater role for national governments, requiring ICANN to seek governmental input on all issues that could affect public policy.

The group's original 1998 charter called for half the board of directors to be chosen by the public. An online election in 2000 filled five of the nine public seats but was widely viewed a failure because of a low turnout and charges of ballot stuffing. ICANN commissioned a task force to look into the problem, but did not follow its recommendations.

In last week's recommendation, ICANN's Lynn said the reforms would allow the group to turn to its core mission of administering the Internet namespace, including approving new top-level domains.

In addition to adding three new domains, the report proposed initiating an evaluation of the most recent name expansion in line with an internal task force report from July 2002. Lastly, Lynn said the group should seek the advice of ICANN's Domain Name Supporting Organization to develop long-range plans for the domain name system.

Because of the length of time expected to complete the last two proposals, Lynn said he recommended moving ahead with preparations to approve three new top-level domains immediately.

Reuters contributed to this report.