Tom Espiner ZDNet UK March 01, 2006, 14:35 BST
China has announced it is creating a new set of domain names based on Chinese characters.
China has created three of its own top-level domains that will use the domain names .cn, .com and .net, in Chinese. The domain names were launched on Wednesday by the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry.
The creation of Chinese character domain names has led to speculation that China could break away from ICANN completely, and undermine the global unity of the DNS, the network of servers that resolves domain name requests.
"It means Internet users don't have to surf the Web via the servers under the management of ICANN, of the US," reported the People's Daily Online, a Chinese Government-approved publication.
ICANN, though, declined to comment on China's plans as scant details have been made available by the Ministry.
"We are intending to clarify the situation today. There's confusion about whether China is creating top-level or second-level domains, because of an ambiguous report. The situation is unclear at the moment," according to ICANN.
Experts are concerned that this move will see China administrating its top-level domains with its own separate root servers, which could cause a split in the Internet.
"Fragmentation is a concern both to ICANN and us because of end user confusion," said Geir Rasmussen, chief executive of Global Name Registry, a domain name registration organisation which oversees the .name domain.
"Users might lose trust in the system if there are multiple versions of the same domains. If someone launched a .name in a different root, you as an end user could not be sure which root you were using. It would be like having a phone number that points to two different people," Rasmussen added.
Last year, several countries objected to ICANN's power over the Internet, because it is ultimately under the control of the US government.
The European Union and other nations demanded the US share responsibility for the DNS, including decisions over adding and deleting new top-level domains, with the United Nations. The Bush administration resisted them.
"There has been conflict with ICANN about who should govern the Internet. We wouldn't be surprised if the Internet became fragmented, because some areas of the world really don't feel included," said Rasmussen.
"The Internet up to now has been mostly Westernised, and some countries may feel disenfranchised, as they can't access the Internet in their local language," Rasmussen added. "I think this is about accessibility. Think if all Westerners had to enter characters in Chinese script."