ICANN allows new top-level domains

International internet regulation body ICANN (icann.org) has given approval for new top-level domain names including multilingual ones following a unanimous vote in Paris.

According to a BBC report, TLD names will be expanded from the typical .com and .org to include any string of letters including Asian, Arabic or other scripts not included in the modern English alphabet.

Domain names, while currently limited to countries (.uk or .us), commerce (.com) and organizations (.net or .org), will be opened to any combination of letters.

Some companies have circumvented TLD name restrictions by manipulating the current system. For instance, Polynesian island Tuvalu leases the use of the .tv address to many television firms.

Starting as soon as 2009, companies will be able to turn brand names into web addresses and individualise their names. However, many businesses, the report said, have pointed out that the new system could be very costly.

Lycos Webhosting's Marcus Eggensperger told the BBC that brand owners who will want to protect their trademarks will be very concerned about the potentially large number of new TLDs. "For a major pharmaceutical business, the cost of registering all of their trademarks when a new trademark is released runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds," he said.

ICANN has assured the public that is has assessed all of the concerns and made the decision with great consideration. "On balance, the board feels that adopting this resolution is in the best interests of the internet and the public at large," said Icann board member Dennis Jennings.

While many businesses stand to gain or lose, there is anticipation by critics that including multilingual characters will help to further democratize the internet by making it more accessible to those who do not or prefer not to use the English alphabet for communication including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev who called for Russia to be assigned an Internet domain name in the Cyrillic script earlier this month.

"We are opening up a new world and I think this cannot be underestimated," ICANN member Robert Gaetano said to the BBC.

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