The Internet's key oversight agency is considering the first sweeping changes in the network's addressing system since its creation 25 years ago.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, closing weeklong meetings in Paris, was scheduled Thursday to consider proposals for streamlining new domain name suffixes.
The new guidelines could lead to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Internet addresses to join ".com," including ".lat" for Latin America and a Bulgarian moniker in the Cyrillic script. New names, however, won't start appearing for at least several months, and ICANN won't be deciding on specific ones quite yet.
Domain names are key for helping computers find Web sites and route e-mail, and adding new suffixes can make it easier for Web sites to promote easy-to-remember names — given that the best ones have mostly been claimed already under ".com."
One proposal under consideration by ICANN would permit addresses entirely in non-English characters for the first time. Specific countries would be put on a "fast track" to receive the equivalent of their two-letter country code, such as Bulgaria's ".bg," in a native language.
Demand for such names has been increasing around the world as Internet usage expands to people who cannot speak English or easily type English characters. Addresses partly in foreign languages are sometimes possible today, but the suffix has been limited to 37 characters: a-z, 0-9 and the hyphen.
Also under consideration are guidelines that would make it easier for companies and groups to propose new suffixes in English. ICANN had accepted bids in 2000 and 2004, but reviews took much time, and one — ".post" for postal services — remains pending more than four years later.
The streamlined guidelines call for all applicants to go through an initial review phase during which anyone may raise an objection on such grounds as racism, trademark conflicts and similarity to an existing suffix. If no objection is raised, approval would come quickly.