WASHINGTON (AP) -- America's surging technology industry changes so quickly, so profoundly that it's said to move in ''Internet time,'' a sort of nebulous parallel universe where years of evolution take mere months.
But curiously, the Internet itself appears largely immune to Internet time.
Important changes to its architecture, such as adding new suffixes for Web addresses, remain at least one year away, despite pledges since the middle of the last decade to change the arcane system that generally limits non-government Web sites to addresses ending with ''com,'' ''net'' or ''org.''
How about www.ap.news? Or www.smithsonian.museum? Or www.ford.cars?
What's taking so long?
The problem, experts acknowledge, is the strange confluence of interests in today's Internet -- the increasingly important network that crosses borders and spans cultures yet is largely run by volunteer geeks loosely scattered around the globe.
So far, the most forceful and successful arguments against expanding Internet addresses, called ''domains,'' are from the world's most powerful corporations. Some jealously guard their trademarks and complain that the current system already is too awkward to police.
A single large company might believe it has to register hundreds of Web site addresses to stem ''cybersquatters,'' the speculators of the Internet age who reserve popular addresses and resell them for profit.
But there also are other, more technical arguments: How many to add? Which ones? Who controls them? Who sells these new addresses? Who decides disputes?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles, was handed authority in September 1998 by the U.S. government to oversee the Internet's domain name system.
But ICANN has been mired since its creation in a bitter, expensive fight over its charter and over allowing new companies to sell Web addresses ending in ''com,'' ''net'' and ''org'' -- a lucrative opportunity that had belonged under an exclusive government contract to Network Solutions Inc. in northern Virginia.
Network Solutions and ICANN largely settled their dispute months ago under an agreement praised as a landmark in the 30-year history of the Internet. Under the deal, Network Solutions remains keeper of the master list of current commercial Web addresses for at least four more years in exchange for paying $1.25 million to ICANN, which now can turn its attention to adding these new Web addresses.
''It's a very important decision,'' said David Post, who teaches at Temple University and is co-founder of the Cyberspace Law Institute. ''In a sense, it's the most important decision that ICANN faces, really.''
ICANN will discuss new Internet suffixes during a meeting in March in Cairo but won't take any action at least until later this year.
''We'll get a much better sense in Cairo whether there is grounds for consensus that will allow the board to move, or whether we're still at an unstable stage,'' said Andrew McLaughlin, a senior adviser to ICANN and its chief financial officer.
He predicted new addresses possibly by year's end, then added: ''Maybe next year is more realistic.''
''There has to be some assurance this is not going to open up a vast quagmire of trademark infringement,'' McLaughlin said.
Some frustrated critics, such as the Washington-based Domain Name Rights Coalition, contend that ICANN has been taken hostage by trademark holders and corporations, which generally oppose expanding Web addresses.
They argue that trademark disputes could become moot if there were sufficient number of alternative Web addresses with meaningful suffixes. Why, for instance, would Ford Motor Co. care who owned www.ford.biz if it were already guaranteed www.ford.cars?
''We would have thought this would have been its first priority,'' said the group's president, Mikki Barry. ''It's all been couched in terms of, we can't do that until we make the trademark owners happy. The chartering of the new top-level domains is probably the most important thing ICANN has to deal with. They seem to be continually putting it on the back burner for other things.''
But even Post, a frequent critic of ICANN, said he doesn't believe the group to be acting irresponsibly in moving slowly on one of the most important issues facing the Internet today.
''I'm no friend of ICANN, but it is a complicated coordination,'' Post said. ''This is the problem of problems for them. I can't in good conscience be screaming at ICANN that it's dragging its feet.''
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Ted Bridis covers technology issues for The Associated Press.
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