MAJOR CHANGES TO THE INTERNET DOMAIN SYSTEM SOON ICAAN's Paris meeting shows the way forward The Internet is set to experience its biggest transformation in decades following the four day 32nd International Public Meeting in Paris last week of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  The conference was opened by the French Minister  for Forward Planning, Assessment of Public Policies and Development of the Digital Economy, Eric Besson. Over 1 670 participants from 150 countries, including 250 participants from the host country France, took part in the meeting. The regulators voted to relax strict rules on so-called top level domain names, such as .com or .uk, allowing companies around the world to turn their brands into domain names, and giving individuals the opportunity to carve out their own corner of the 'Net.  ICAAN CEO CEO, Dr. Paul Twomey, emphasised the significance of the decision, explaining that it represented a complete overhaul of the way in which people navigate the internet. "The impact of this will be different in different parts of the world," he said.  "But it will allow groups, communities and business to express their identities online.  "Like the United States in the 19th Century, we are in the process of opening up new real estate, new land, and people will go out and claim parts of that land and use it for various reasons they have. It's a massive increase in the geography of the real estate of the internet."
The decision means that companies could turn brands into web addresses. For example, a gambling company could create the domain .gambling,  while individuals could use their names.
 A second proposal, to introduce domain names written in Asian, Arabic or other scripts, was also approved.  "We are opening up a new world and I think this cannot be underestimated," said Roberto Gaetano, a member of the ICAAN board.  "This is a huge step forward in the development of the internet – it will unblock something that has prevented a lot of people getting online," said Emily Taylor, director of legal and policy at Nominet, the national registry for .uk domain names. "At the moment, there are one-and-a-half billion people online and four-and-a-half billion people for whom the Roman script just means nothing."  ICAAN has been working towards opening up the 25-year-old net addresses for nearly six years. It was one of its founding goals in 1998, said Twomey. At the moment, top-level domains (TLDs) are currently limited to individual countries, such as .uk (UK) or .it (Italy), as well as to commerce, .com, and to institutional organisations, such as .net, or .org.    The .com suffix is the most popular and most costly TLD. Some companies have circumvented the previous restrictions by the 'creative' use of the geographic system. For example, the Polynesian island nation Tuvalu, has leased the use of the .tv address to many television firms.  Under the new plans, domain names can be based on any string of letters, in any script. Individuals will be able to register a domain based on their own name, for example, as long as they can show a "business plan and technical capacity". Companies will be able to secure domain names based on their intellectual property.  But be warned – this could entail expense. Twomey told the BBC that the cost of setting up a domain – at least initially – will be an expensive business. "We expect that the fee will be in the low six figure dollar amounts," he said.  He explained that ICAAN has already spent close to $10 million on the proposals – set to rise to $20 million – and needs to recoup the costs. This could have major financial implications for companies wishing to protect their brands, where the cost of registering all of the relevant trademarks or when a new trademark is released runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Others point out that some generic domain names – such as .news or .sport – could become subject to contention and a bidding war.  To handle disputes and issues, ICAAN will implement an arbitration process.  The process of introducing the new system will start in 2009, with the first websites possibly coming online in the final quarter of the year. 

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