The global body that charts the course of the Internet is set to vote in Singapore today on a potentially revolutionary plan to open up new domain suffixes for private companies.
Under the changes to be discussed at a meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), businesses would no longer be restricted to the list of generic top level domains (gTLDs) that include .com, .net and .org when they apply to register a website address.
Industry observers say global giants such as Apple, Toyota and BMW, to cite examples from various regions, could be in the vanguard of launching websites with their own domain names.
"New gTLDs represent one of the biggest changes to the Internet since its inception," said Michele Jourdan, communications manager for the ICANN.
"While they won't have a technical impact on the way the Internet operates, they could potentially change the way people find information and how businesses plan and structure their online presence," she told AFP.
ICANN, a non-profit body managing the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses that form the technical backbone of the Web, is holding a six-day global meeting in Singapore to discuss a range of matters.
Its board will vote on Monday on whether to proceed with the new gTLD programme, and an ICANN source said approval was expected.
"Corporations may choose to apply for their own domain, offering them new possibilities for structuring their online and offline presence," said Jourdan.
"They may also offer corporations better brand control.
"Additionally, entirely new domains may come into existence that bring about new commercial opportunities."
But it won't come cheap.
It will cost a company $185,000 (NZ$228,000) just to apply and there are a number of criteria that must be met before ICANN will give the nod for a firm to own the domain name of its choice.
The fee is needed to recoup the costs associated with the new gTLD programme and to ensure that it is fully funded, ICANN said.
It would also weed out opportunistic applicants seeking to resell domain names for a profit after buying them cheaply, a problem in the earlier days of the Internet.
According to the draft new gTLD applicant guidebook dated May 30, only "established corporations, organisations, or institutions in good standing may apply for a new gTLD".
ICANN will not consider applications from individuals or sole proprietorships.