Internet Governing Body Makes Major Change

The world's main Internet governing body Monday approved what may be the biggest change in the online world for many years. Soon, we may see website addresses that end with almost any word. It won't be just dot-com or dot-org or dot-net. We could have dot-NewYork or dot-Toyota. Companies, cities, even individuals, could have Web addresses all to themselves.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

I'm Michele Norris. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

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NORRIS: There was a potentially big change today in the Internet world. The international body that governs Web addressing approved a virtually unlimited expansion of what are called top-level domain names. These are the words that come after the dot, like dot-com, dot-org or dot-gov.

As NPR's Tom Gjelten reports, we could soon see almost any word at the end of a Web address.

TOM GJELTEN: The Internet, since its creation, has been largely ungoverned. But for practical purposes, the online world does have to agree on a Web addressing system. One global body with real power is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, ICANN for short. And at a meeting in Singapore today, the ICANN board of directors changed website naming rules.

Mr. ROD BECKSTROM (President, ICANN): Today, we made history.

GJELTEN: ICANN President Rod Beckstrom.

Mr. BECKSTROM: The Internet's addressing system has just been opened up to the limitless possibilities of human imagination and creativity.

GJELTEN: Again, what Beckstrom is talking about is the last half of a website address, the words that follow the dot.

Mr. BECKSTROM: So when you think dot-com, dot-net, now think dot-open to new things, to new ideas.

GJELTEN: The possibilities are virtually endless. One big change will be to allow different alphabets: a dot.com expressed in Chinese or Hebrew characters, for example. You could have top-level domain names for promotional purposes, websites that all end in dot.New York. We'll soon see dot.brands, dot-Starbucks, maybe.

Alexa Raad is chairman of Architelos, a consulting firm that advises companies on Internet naming. She sees advantages for a company moving from its old dot-com address to having a top-level domain all its own.

Ms. ALEXA RAAD (Architelos): It is sort of like having an apartment in an apartment community versus owning the apartment community itself, which gives you greater control over the policies that you can enforce, over the security measures that you can enforce.

GJELTEN: One example, the American Banking Association has made it known it would like to own dot-bank; then it could set new Internet security rules for accessing any bank website with that suffix.

Individuals could even buy their own Internet names; imagine www.Donald.Trump. It wouldn't be cheap. Registering your own top-level domain name will cost $185,000 and you'd have to show you have good reason to register it.

Still, this change could fundamentally alter Internet real estate in ways that right now are hard to predict. Applications open next January.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington.

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