Step Taken Toward Global Internet Names

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer

The Internet's key oversight agency sought Friday to identify policy disputes that might arise from the introduction of addresses that end in non-Latin scripts, marking one more step toward making the Internet truly global.

Histrically, domain names have been limited to the 26 characters of the English alphabet, the 10 numerals and the hyphen. Constraining non-English speakers to those characters is akin to forcing all English speakers to type domains in Chinese.

Operators of some domain name suffixes, such as ".com" and Thailand's ".th," already have adopted technical tricks to understand other scripts. However, the suffix -- the ".com" part -- remains in English, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers so far has barred addresses entirely in non-Latin scripts.

That could start to change in the next year or two.

In anticipation of non-English suffixes, the ICANN board asked representatives from governments and operators of country-code domains such as ".fr" for France to come up with a list of policy questions that must be resolved.

That could include who should decide what countries get what suffixes and how to make sure a domain in one language isn't inadvertently offensive in another, said Vint Cerf, ICANN's chairman. A preliminary report could come by March.

"What we're trying to do is get as much of the issues documented and publicly visible," Cerf said Friday after the board wrapped up this week's meetings in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Separately, engineers have been considering technical issues surrounding such names. One concern is that characters in two scripts sometimes look alike, raising the possibility that criminals might sub one for the other as part of scams.

Earlier in the week, ICANN released technical details for application developers and others to test whether non-English domains could wreck a global addressing system that millions of Internet users rely upon every day.

On Friday, ICANN's board also approved contract renewals for ".biz," ".info" and ".org." Added clauses include one designed to ensure that operators of those domains won't try to charge more to register the simpler, more valuable names.

Critics had worried that without such a provision, an operator could potentially raise prices when a company tries to renew an easy-to-remember or trademarked name. Friday's decision clarifies that the board opposes variable pricing and indicates that similar clauses are likely for other domains as contracts get renewed.

Cerf, one of the Internet's founding fathers as co-developer of the key communications protocols, also was named ICANN chairman for a seventh and final year. He said ICANN's bylaws require him to leave the board when his term expires next December. Cerf joined the board in 1999 and became ICANN's second chair a year later.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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Anick Jesdsanun, AP
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