Singapore - The internet's global co-ordinator voted on Monday to allow the creation of website addresses ending in company names, enabling big firms to replace ".com" with their own brand.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the radical proposal at a meeting in Singapore despite fears that opening up new website suffixes could cause some confusion.
"This is the biggest change to domain names since the creation of '.com' 26 years ago," said Theo Hnarakis, chief executive of Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services, a California-based company that provides online branding advice.
Under the changes, businesses will 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 ending in ".apple", ."toyota" and ".bmw".
Hnarakis told AFP the companies that will benefit most are "big brands with a clear marketing and customer education strategy to exploit the name for competitive advantage.
"Brands need to act now if they want to apply for one of these new domain names as it is not as simple as registering a .com address. It is a complex task that needs thought and investment," he added.
The Icann board voted 13-1 in favour of the change, with two abstentions, a spokesperson said.
Board member Sebastien Bachollet, who was in favour of the change, said "some people feel that the new gTLDs will cause confusion."
"I trust we have the tools to ensure the phase of stress will be brief," he added.
Icann, a non-profit body managing the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses that form the technical backbone of the internet, is holding a global meeting in Singapore this week to discuss a range of matters.
Icann communications manager Michele Jourdan said corporations will now have "new possibilities for structuring their online and offline presence."
But it will not come cheap.
It will cost a company $185 000 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.