Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Thursday, 26 June 2008 12:12 UK

Q&A: Internet shake-up

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones explains the domain name system

The net's regulator Icann has proposed a complete overhaul of the way people navigate the internet.

They will vote to decide if the strict rules on so-called top level domain names, such as .com or .uk, can be relaxed.

The plans would allow firms to use their brands as web addresses while individuals could use their name.

But not everyone is happy with the plan.

Here, BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones looks at the proposals.

What is a top level domain?

A top level domain (TLD) is what comes after the last dot in a web address.

So .com, .org, .net and so on. In recent years a number of new TLDs have been introduced, such as .biz, .mobi and .asia, but their growth has been strictly controlled by Icann, the body which organises the internet.

Now, the organisation wants to to make it much easier to bring in new TLDs.

How do you get one?

TLDs are run by so-called registries - .com for instance is run by Verisign.

If Icann's plan goes through organisations will have to show they have the technical capability to organise new domains.

They will also have to stump up a sizeable fee.

Who wants one?

A group of New Yorkers wants to have .nyc and other cities could follow suit.

A host of companies and marketing organisations may want to come up with domains promoting brands.

Other ideas include .smith or .jones - which could then be marketed to the millions of people bearing those names.

What does this mean for .xxx?

There has long been pressure for a .xxx domain for sites with adult content.

Some groups think this might be a useful way of keeping unsuitable material away from children - others say porn sites would avoid using it.

So far Icann has rejected calls for a .xxx domain on the grounds that it might be forced to act as a censor. But now it could get the green light.

Can I have a domain name in my own language?

Right now domains are all in Roman characters - but another significant part of Icann's plan may allow for new domains in other scripts.

So, Chinese or Arabic characters could appear in web addresses.

What is the downside?

Not everyone is convinced that a free-for-all is a good thing.

New domains such as .biz or .mobi have made little impact and the vast majority of website owners still choose .com or a country code.

But so-called "domainers", who invest in domain names, and "cybersquatters", who occupy domains with valuable corporate names, may see all this a huge opportunity.

Big companies with valuable brands fear they will have to spend time and money buying up every possible domain name - while reaping little gain from the liberalisation of this market.

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