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The ICANN board meeting in December is poised to make one of the most sweeping changes in the Internet's history, expanding the range of generic top level domains (.com, .net, etc.) to almost any string of letters and numbers, apart from a few exceptions.

The meeting, the 39th public meeting of ICANN, will be held in Cartagena, Columbia from 5 -10 December. According to ICANN, "New generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will likely be the hottest issue at the meeting. The possible expansion in the last portion of an Internet address from its current 21 generic names to an infinite number of new ones could mark one of the biggest changes in the history of the Internet."

The topic was a major subject for discussion at an ICANN meeting in Sydney last June when then ICANN president, Paul Twomey told iTWire that, rather than being prescriptive as to what strings of characters could be used for gTLDs, ICANN was planning to simply provide grounds for objections, and a mechanism by which these could be dealt with.

"Governments have concerns about geopolitical names, intellectual property lawyers have concerns about brands. What happens if a name is confusingly similar to something else?...There are concerns about domains that might appear to represent communities, such as dot Maori, but prove not to do so. And finally, there are questions of morality and public order - which is a well-defined concept in intellectual property law."

Twomey said that ICANN expected the main demand for the new domains would come from entrepreneurs wanting generic names like .shop and .web. "The second group would appear to be people with brands and established reputations they want to protect. A lot of seem to be interested in the new names for email addresses."

No process to allocate the new names ha been developed at that stage but Twomey said cybersquatters or small companies with a legitimate claim to a word that also happened to be a global brand would be deterred by the $US185,000 application fee. "And that's a cost recovery figure - that is how much it will cost us to process the applications," Twomey said.

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