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Internet Panel Endorses New Addresses

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has said new top-level domain names might be available next year.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) -- A key oversight body endorsed plans Sunday to add more Internet suffixes and said they would likely be restricted to specific industries or fields.

Businesses have been clamoring for ICANN -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- to open new address possibilities, complaining that existing top-level domains led by ".com" and ".org" are overcrowded.

At its annual open meeting, ICANN said the new domains would be up for grabs as early as next year. The expansion would mark only the second time since 1985 that the body has endorsed a limited number of new top-level domains. In 2000, seven new domains were allowed, including .biz and .info.

ICANN was established by the U.S. Department of Commerce in 1998 to control the Internet's addressing system, which had until then been the responsibility of several unconnected agencies and volunteers.

But as the number of registered domain names grew into the millions, pressure has mounted on ICANN to offer a wider selection of top-level domains.

The next batch will likely be "sponsored domains," pegged to certain mainly commercial realms. Companies say such domains will open new marketing and branding tools. Among dozens of suggested new domains are .travel, .news, and .health.

Any organization can apply to sponsor a new top-level domain, though the final decision is up to ICANN. The organization must prove the new domain represents a well-defined community closely connected to the proposed title. It also must put up a $50,000 application fee.

ICANN president M. Stuart Lynn declined to speculate on how many new domains would be available, or when.

"We're not giving any deadlines yet; we've got a lot of work to do," he said, adding that the expansion process would inevitably bring more disputes: "There will always be controversy."

Lauri Hirvonen, a senior manager at the Finnish telecoms company Nokia, complained that his company had been lobbying for two years for the introduction of a new top-level domain for the wireless industry.

"Two years is a long time to wait," he said.

At the end of the two-day meeting, ICANN's board also agreed on the biggest reorganization in its brief history.

ICANN had been facing mounting criticism from quarters ranging from the U.S. Congress to public interest groups in the Internet community about its legitimacy and procedures.

The reform, spearheaded by Lynn, will reduce the decision-making board to 15 from 18 members and end a system under which five board members were publicly elected via Internet votes.

Under the reform, the 15 members are chosen by a complex arrangement of committees affiliated with ICANN.

A transitional board will be in charge until the new pared-down board is selected, based on bylaws adopted Sunday. The selection will likely happen in early 2003.

Copyright 2002. Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.