MARINA DEL REY, Calif. (AP) â€” To relieve overcrowding in dot-com addresses, the international organization in charge of Internet names could select several new suffixes by week's end, including .biz and .web.
The move would represent the first major expansion of Web names since the existing structure developed in the 1980s.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was set to begin a four-day meeting Monday to consider 44 proposed suffixes.
Adding new suffixes is like adding new telephone area codes to accommodate growth. But new suffixes also could lead to a new round of cybersquatting â€” the registration of names by speculators who hope to resell them for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
More than 24 million names are registered under .com, .net and .org, and the best ones have been taken. Many sites are forced to use longer names or complicated abbreviations.
With the change, a labor union might claim a .union name and leave the .com version to its employer. An individual named Ford might take Ford.nom, since Ford.com belongs to the motor company.
Plus, a new suffix such as .health could provide a channel for prescreened health information, so that consumers would not have to guess how reliable a dot-com site might be.
Any decisions are bound to be controversial. When the U.S. government selected ICANN in 1998 to take over naming policies, the organization inherited disagreements going back to the mid-90s.
``The week will be very busy, with lots of intense discussions,'' said Esther Dyson, the ICANN board's chairwoman. ``I'm sure there are people who are going to be unhappy.''
Though the safer option would have been to do nothing, she said, the Internet needs to evolve, grow and change.
An ICANN task force recommended that the board move slowly, picking six to 10 for now to test their effect on the global network and its users.
Last week, a separate group of advisers recommended choosing from among 16 proposals, though the board is free to consider any of the 44 applications submitted. Names on the table include .web, .biz, .coop and .museum.
Some companies aren't waiting for ICANN to act. Many of the proposed names, including .web and .biz, have been available for years through directories that fall outside ICANN's control.
But the vast majority of computers worldwide point to domain name servers that get their basic information from the 13 root servers officially designated by ICANN and the U.S. government. Those servers do not recognize .web and .biz yet, and attempts to reach a .web site that way would produce an error message.
Christopher Ambler, whose company has been registering .web names, plans to challenge ICANN's authority if it picks one of the two competing proposals for .web. ICANN advisers found his proposal defective but revived it when Internet users posted favorable comments in discussion boards.
Some Internet users believe the network can handle thousands, even millions, of new suffixes. They complain the board would promote cybersquatting by creating scarcity.
Michael Froomkin, a University of Miami law professor who is a frequent ICANN critic, went further by accusing ICANN of overstepping its authority.
Although ICANN's mission is limited to technical issues, Froomkin said the organization would be making social choices in choosing some suffixes but not others.
Dyson, the board chairwoman, said critics are free to complain during Wednesday's public forum. But she warned that moving too quickly could cause instability to the Net.
Also on this week's agenda is a review of how to select board members in the future. ICANN held elections for only five of the nine spots for the general membership, leading to complaints of ``boardsquatting'' because four appointed directors will stay for another term.
The organization will also host a forum on non-English domain names. Registration for Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters began Thursday night over the objections of engineers who fear that the machines that help users find sites won't all recognize the Asian languages.
Watchdog group: http://www.icannwatch.org