New Domains in Works at Internet Meeting

New Internet addresses, including those entirely in foreign languages, are under review by a key oversight agency, although meetings this week in Puerto Rico are likely to conclude with more questions.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers scheduled several discussion sessions in San Juan on separate proposals to more rapidly expand the pool of domain name suffixes -- the ".com" part of an e-mail or Web address -- and to permit non-English characters for the first time.

Individuals and companies outside the United States long have clamored for non-English scripts, finding restrictive the current limitation to the 26 English letters, 10 numerals and the hyphen. Addresses partly in foreign languages are sometimes possible, but the suffix itself for now requires non-English speakers to type English characters.

Paul Twomey, ICANN's chief executive, said Monday that the organization expects a report or two on policy questions it would need to address before allowing such names.

For example, should the operators of China's ".cn" automatically be entitled to the Chinese version of that, ".com" and anything else in the language? What if operators of Taiwan's ".tw" want to claim it?

"Who gets the string? What's the string for? How many do you get for a country or territory?" Twomey said of the likely questions to be raised by ICANN's committees.

Engineers also will continue work on tests to make sure the non-English scripts won't disrupt users' ability to send e-mail and reach Web sites. Nonsensical strings will be entered into the retrofitted domain name system and can be quickly removed if trouble arises.

Meanwhile, ICANN has scheduled workshops to discuss procedures for additional domain suffixes in English. It would be the third major round and the first beyond a pilot since the system was created in the 1980s.

Under the procedures being considered, all applicants would go through an initial review phase during which anyone may raise an objection on such grounds as racism, trademark conflicts and similarity to an existing suffix.

For straightforward strings in which no objection is raised, approval would come within three months. Otherwise, the application would undergo a more thorough review.

During the past two rounds, all applications faced extended reviews, leading to criticism that the organization had been slow and at times arbitrary -- particularly with its March decision to reject ".xxx" for porn sites. One application, for ".post," has been pending since March 2004.

Twomey said ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization is likely to forward recommendations to the organization's board but leave it to its staff to figure out the details. Pending questions include where to draw the line between free speech and threats to morality and public order.

"That's not going to be easy," said Twomey, who has said the new names could start appearing in the summer of 2008.