ICANN disputes China domain report

ICANN disputed a report of new Chinese top-level Internet domains, citing information from a Chinese agency.

A report on an official Chinese news site that China's government has established its own Internet top-level domain names is not true, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

People's Daily Online reported Tuesday that the country's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) had changed China's domain name system effective Wednesday, adding new top-level domains of ".com," ".net" and ".china" in Chinese characters, among other things.

"It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) of the United States," the report said.

However, ICANN officials contacted the Chinese Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which oversees the country's .cn top-level domain, after the report was published and were told there are no new Chinese top-level domains. The report may have resulted from a misunderstanding of work already in progress that involves second-level domains, according to Tina Dam, ICANN's chief GTLD (generic top-level domain) registry liaison.

Top-level domain names are the codes at the end of Web addresses, which include identifiers such as .com and .net but also country codes such as China's .cn. All top-level domains today are in Roman characters, but ICANN has been working toward providing top-level domain in different character sets, including Chinese, Dam said. CNNIC is involved in that work, she added. So far technology has been developed for second-level domains in other character sets, but not top-level domains. A program for a top-level domain experiment is being developed now, she said.

There are already domain names available that appear to end in a Chinese-character top-level domain, but they are still under .cn even though that part of the address doesn't appear in the browser, Dam said. This is accomplished using a browser plug-in, she said. The People's Daily Online article may have resulted from a misunderstanding of those domain names, she said.

CNNIC told ICANN representatives that all its work has involved second-level domains, according to Dam. ICANN has not contacted MII on the issue, she said.

The People's Daily report also referred to two new sets of second-level domains. One set includes domains for research institutions, educational institutions, government departments and defense agencies, and the other is for China's provinces, major cities and other localities, the report said. ICANN did not ask CNNIC about the reported new second-level domains, Dam said. Administrators of country top-level domains are free to create new second-level domains under them, she added.

ICANN, which oversees the DNS (Domain Name System) at the heart of the Internet's operation, is an independent organization but is based in Marina Del Rey, California, and has close ties to the U.S. government. It has been at the center of a recent heated debate over control of the Internet. Representatives of China and other countries have voiced concerns about disproportionate U.S. power over the Internet.

"It's not news that there's at least a faction of the Chinese government that is concerned about this," said John Klensin, an independent consultant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was a pioneer in Internet software and has recently worked on internationalization projects. "Whether that faction is representative of the government is a matter of intense speculation, and I don't think anyone outside of China really knows," he said.

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