The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will launch an initiative for enabling new generic top level domains (gTLD), the group announced Friday after completing its week-long meeting in Carthage, Tunisia."ICANN has now moved forward with a program to introduce further competition and choice in the top-level domain markets," said Paul Twomey, president and CEO of ICANN in a conference call. "We are opening up the process for which TLDs (top level domains) can be applied for."In approving a new two-stage approach, ICANN, which oversees technical issues related to the Internet address system, is looking to expedite and simplify the TLD application process he said. ICANN's goal is to implement a transparent process, Twomey added.Most TLDs with three or more characters, such as .com or .net, are referred to as gTLDs. Two-letter TLDs designate a specific country and are called ccTLDs, or country-code TLDs.ICANN expects to have the applications process completed by Dec. 31, 2004, after which time people will be able to apply for new gTLDs, Twomey said. The current process has been criticized for being too complicated and laborious. The new process will also be less expensive, according to ICANN spokeswoman, Mary Hewitt.ICANN has also approved an expedited process for a round of new sponsored generic top level domains (sTLD), which will result in new sTLDs in 2004, Twomey said. There are two subsets of gTLDs: sponsored (sTLD) and unsponsored (uTLD). The sTLD serves specific communities, current examples being .museum, .coop, and .aero, according to the ICANN Web site. Examples of uTLDs are .biz, .info, .name, and .pro."We will be using the early sTLD round to help us engage the community in the process and to further evaluate the best manner to achieve the appropriate balance between corporate and sponsor control of TLDs and ICANN\u2019s role of management on behalf of the Internet community," Twomey said.Twomey addressed the controversy generated by VeriSign's SiteFinder service, saying that he welcomed the suspension of the service. "The issue of the stewardship function of the Internet has been awakened in the sense that 'if this, then what else?'" he said.The service had redirected users who mistyped an Internet domain name ending in .com or .net to a commercial site that VeriSign was operating.The reaction to the SiteFinder service had similarities to a major security event, Twomey said. "It has been something of a seismic event and has generated a more keen appreciation of stewardship. It will have implications in the TLD issues we've been talking about."