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ICANN approves .asia

A key oversight agency has approved a “.asia” domain for Internet addresses, supplementing suffixes available for individual countries, such as “.cn” for China and “.jp” for Japan. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers earlier approved “.eu” for the European Union.

Made up of groups that run domain names for China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries, the DotAsia Organization Ltd. plans to explore permitting domain names in Asian languages under “.asia.” ICANN also has been exploring allowing suffixes in other languages, too, though that will take time and is unaffected by Wednesday’s decision on “.asia.”

Finalizing the contract between ICANN and DotAsia could take weeks. Registrations for English-language names is not expected for another six to nine months. Prices will vary, and trademark holders will get the first picks.

ICANN was selected by the U.S. government in 1998 to oversee Internet addressing policies, although the Commerce Department retains veto power over decisions until at least 2009.

More than 260 domain name suffixes exist, mostly country codes such as “.fr” for France. Recent additions include “.cat” for the Catalan language and “.mobi” for mobile services.

Demand for the new names has generally been low, compared with old-timers like “.com,” which has about 57 million names.

However, many foreign businesses consider “.com” primarily a U.S. domain, and latecomers to the Internet have found the best names already taken. Backers of “.asia” believe Asian businesses will want a separate identity, particularly as they expand beyond their own countries and find their country-specific names limiting for a regional market. Individuals and groups will be eligible as well.

DotAsia has said it plans to restrict registrations to those in the region, which includes Australia.