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ICANN to finalize new top-level domains

New top-level domains come a step closer to reality as the agency that oversees Web addresses authorizes the completion of negotiations for .name, .pro, .biz and .info.

MELBOURNE, Australia--New top-level domains came a step closer to reality Tuesday when the agency that oversees Internet addresses authorized the completion of negotiations for the unsponsored top-level domains .name, .pro, .biz and .info.

At a quarterly meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in Melbourne this week, the organization's board discussed finalizing agreements for new top-level domains, the fate of registrar VeriSign, and the difficulties surrounding international domains.

ICANN adopted seven new domain name suffixes in November in an attempt to expand the previous list of top-level domains, including .com, .net and .org. The organization has concentrated its efforts to get the new unsponsored, .pro, .biz and .info--up and running as quickly as possible. Tuesday's decision should mean progress will soon be made on the sponsored top-level domains: .aero, .coop and .museum.

The unsponsored domain agreements include a one-year preparation period, a five-year operation term, and a possible one-year extension. They also provide clauses that would make an appropriate financial adjustment--in the event of a change of registry operator--to cover overhanging registrations, late-term investments, and so on.

Some ICANN board members said they felt the agreements could be improved, particularly in regard to separation of registry and registrar. But they said the perceived need for prompt action overrode these concerns.

A registrar, such as, sells domain names to the public. A registry charges registrars to add domain names to a central database, which it alone controls.

Afilias, the consortium chosen to run the .info domain, said in a statement that it welcomed the board's resolution. It will begin a registration period to trademark holders as early as the second quarter of 2001; open registration for the public is expected to commence approximately 45 days later.

RegistryPro, which plans to launch the .pro domain--initially for medical practitioners, lawyers and accountants--by the third quarter, also welcomed the progress.

"Today's decision has moved RegistryPro, as well as the other registries, further along the path to bringing more choice and more competitive product offerings into the domain industry," interim CEO Sloan Gaon said in a statement.

Waiting on VeriSign
In addition, the ICANN board on Tuesday deferred its decision on its agreement with VeriSign and registries for the .com, .net and .org domains. Earlier this month, the company said it would cede control of the .org and .net suffixes to maintain rights to its registry for .com.

The board has two options. The status quo is that on May 10, VeriSign would divest its registrar business. In return, it would operate the .com, .net and .org registries until 2007, at which time it would be able to seek renewal for all three together.

The alternative agreement, prepared by ICANN staff and VeriSign, would let the company operate the .org registrar until 2002, .net until 2006, and .com until 2007. The company would not seek renewal for .org, and .net would be subject to competitive bids. However, renewal of the contract for the highly popular .com domain would be virtually automatic if VeriSign was providing an adequate service, and the company would not have to divest its registrar.

The board resolved to finalize the matter in a conference call scheduled for April 2, giving it time to receive and consider comments submitted to its Web site by the Domain Name Support Organization and other interested parties.

The board's discussion Tuesday suggested the weight of opinion favors allowing VeriSign to renew its .com contract. As happened at the public forum, most of the concerns expressed seemed to be about due process, rather than either of the options facing the board.

"My view is that (the .com renewal) is an improvement and a benefit," said ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf.

ZDNet Australia's Stephen Withers reported from Melbourne. staff contributed to this report.