Internet regulators on Thursday voted to relax rules on domain names like .com or .edu, which could pave the way for companies or individuals to create an array of new addresses for the Web.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, also approved measures that will allow top-level domain names to be written in scripts such as Arabic or Cyrillic.
Top-level domain names, or TLDs, refer to Internet name suffixes, such as the ubiquitous .com, .net and .org, among others. Currently, there are more than 200 TLDs, which also include the two-character country codes used by websites, such as Britain's .uk.
"This is a historic resolution," said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of Icann's board. "It's going to make a big difference to how the Internet looks and works."
Icann officials said some technical issues for the new system must still be worked out, but it could be reviewing the first applications for new TLDs as early as next spring. The application fee is expected to cost more than $100,000.
Under the new system, individuals, companies or groups could apply to have any string of letters established as a domain name. It could be a vanity name, for example -- .smith -- or a category name like .sports or .perfume. A company could also change its domain to reflect its brand, so Apple.com could become Apple.mac, for instance.
Straightforward applications will be approved quickly, officials said. A review process would be undertaken for controversial strings, such as those that infringe on existing trademarks, or appear to be too similar to existing TLDs, or raise moral objections.
Icann adopted the new rules after a meeting in Paris.
(Reporting by Paul Thomasch, editing by Maureen Bavdek)