PARIS (AFP) — Web regulators Thursday voted to allow the creation of thousands of new domain names, from .paris to .Pepsi, in one of the biggest shake-ups in Internet history, a French web official said.
The overhaul is expected to radically change the way users navigate the Internet and has major implications for businesses and consumers worldwide.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board approved the change at its annual general meeting in Paris, according to Loic Damilaville, deputy head of the French domain name body, the AFNIC.
"We think this is a great opportunity for the sector, we are very enthusiastic," the chief executive of ICANN, Paul Twomey, told AFP before the vote.
Currently all web addresses fall under one of some 250 top-level domain names: .country or .territory domains, and generic ones such as .com, .net and .org, .gov, and .edu.
Under the new system, the web's 1.3 billion users would be able from 2009 to buy an unlimited number of generic addresses based on common words, brands or company names, cities or proper names.
The popular online trading site eBay is one of the many companies that wants to have its own domain name.
Broad product groups such as .bank or .car are also likely contenders, while the pornography industry is angling for the creation of a .xxx domain for adult sites.
Cities could benefit too from this liberalisation, with the German capital hoping for .berlin or New York for .nyc.
Twomey said the details would be worked out over the next three or four months, with the change expected to take effect in the second quarter of 2009.
"That said, there are currently more than 160 million domain names and I do not expect to see the same number of new extensions created in 2009," he said.
The regulator also voted to allow domain names to be lodged in languages such as Arabic or Mandarin Chinese, according to Damilaville.
Some participants at the ICANN meet had voiced concerns about "cybersquatting" -- the risk that brand names, for example, could be usurped on the web.
To avoid chaos, Damilaville said the ICANN also adopted a motion designed to "limit the abusive registration of new domain names."
In addition, ICANN is looking at ways of blocking certain domain names based on security or moral grounds, he said.
Some cities or regions have been bending the rules already to get the domain they want. The city of Los Angeles has for example signed a deal with the southeast Asian state Laos to use its .la domain.
With the stock of available web addresses under the current IPv4 protocol set to run out by 2011, ICANN has been under pressure to find a solution for burgeoning demand.
In theory, an infinite number of new domain names could be born, which would prove a boon for ICANN because it would receive payment for each one.
But in reality advanced technical skills and deep pockets would be needed to set up a new name.
Industry experts expect the cost -- which has yet to be fixed -- could reach into the tens of thousands of dollars.
A non-profit organisation based in southern California, ICANN oversees the assignment of domain names and Internet protocol addresses that help computers communicate.
More than 1,500 delegates from 70 countries gathered in Paris for ICANN's meeting.
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