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ELEANOR HALL: A decision in Paris overnight has opened up new possibilities in cyberspace. Until
now internet addresses have been restricted to domain names like .com or .net.

But that has seen cyberspace clogging up. Now the global coordinator of the internet has freed up
the system with a massive deregulation of domain names.

But as Simon Lauder reports, it's going to be an expensive exercise and could open the way for
legal disputes.

(Music)

SIMON LAUDER: They're called top level domain names. For years they've been regulated and limited,
meaning most web addresses end with .com, .net, .gov or something else familiar. But a decision by
the group which oversees domain names means you could soon be surfing websites like .food,
.Canberra, .pets, .organic, .anything really.

The head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is Dr Paul Twomey.

PAUL TWOMEY: This is spectacular exciting for the next billion users of the internet. This is, for
the first time since the formation of the domain name system, we will be able to take top level
domain strings in characters apart from 37 roman characters. We'll move from 37 roman characters to
over 100,000 characters that will be supported.

And what does that really mean? It means that people in character based languages, North-East Asia,
South Asia, Middle East, the Cyrillic part of the world, will be able to express their identity
fully in their own character set.

SIMON LAUDER: Until now, domain names have been restricted to the English alphabet, the numerals
one to nine and the hyphen. Dr Twomey says the internet has outgrown that, and will soon cater to
people in non-English speaking countries.

PAUL TWOMEY: No, we would not have run out of domain names, but we would have probably limited
people's ability to identify themselves on the internet. The early days with the Roman characters
we use now were fine for sort of the European, North American, Australian type environment.

But now with internet booming in China and in India and Middle East and the Cyrillic world, it is
more applicable that people have that opportunity to express themselves in their own scripts.

SIMON LAUDER: There will be no limit on domain names, but there will be arbitration to make sure
offensive names aren't used and to protect intellectual property.

PAUL TWOMEY: This is essentially setting up the people who can sell you the domain names, so the
application process for this is going to cost over $100,000 to apply, but in terms of protecting
your brand name, if you don't have one of these TLDs (top level domains) and you think you need to
protect them, we will specifically have an opportunity for objections on intellectual property
grounds and an international arbitration system for that to work.

SIMON LAUDER: So, for US$100,000 or more companies will be able to turn their brand into a web
address. A rich, vain person could give a website their own name.

But it still costs just a few dollars to register with one of the old domains. The chief executive
of the Internet Industry Association, Peter Coroneos, says the extra expense could be a concern for
some businesses.

PETER CORONEOS: Another measure that they seem to be putting in place here is they charge such
significant sums for the registration of some domains. They would hope that the large entry price
would be a deterrent for cyber squatters.

Of course, the downside to that is sort of another expenditure that businesses must make if they're
seeking to secure their domain names in this new environment.

SIMON LAUDER: Peter Coroneos says the shift to a more open, yet more complex and expensive system
could also expand possibilities for lawyers.

PETER CORONEOS: We have ironically seen even litigation in Australia on that. I remember a court
case several years ago where someone who's name happened to be Target had opened a retail
establishment in Tasmania and was trading under their name - Target - and was sued by Target stores
on the basis off a trade market disputes.

This is one of the challenges that ICANN will inevitably face in opening up the range of domain
names that will be able to be registered. Clearly there's big scope for dispute over who has the
better title to a name, it will become proportionally greater as well.

SIMON LAUDER: The registry for new domain names is expected to open next year.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting.