Behind the names and numbers of the Internet

ICANN President Fadi Chehadé at Opening Ceremony of ICANN 45.

Every time you go on the Internet and type in a website's address, you're relying on an interconnected system that makes sure networks around the world are properly connected and coordinated. But who takes on the daunting task of governing all of that? ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Fadi Chehade, CEO of ICANN, says his organization is making a major change to how websites are named. Right now there are just a few types of top-level domains -- .com, .org, .net and so on. But ICANN's stakeholders decided that was an unnecessary constraint that was limiting the growth of the web. So later this year ICANN will expand the types of domains and allow anything to be put to the right of the dot. Chehade says this will be especially helpful for growing economies like China and India.

"By enabling this massive expansion of the address system, there's no doubt this will create a lot more opportunity for businesses here and in the new emerging markets," says Chehade.

But with this type of large-scale expansion, there's bound to be problems. The infinite possibilities of domains could cause confusion -- and legal issues. For example, when Amazon wanted to apply for a .amazon domain, it raised objection from some Latin American countries who didn't want it to be confused with the Amazon rainforest.

"The reality is when you allow people to brand spaces on the Internet, you're going to have conflict. We have to understand the law and follow the law, but at the same time allow all voices to be heard," says Chehade.

So can anyone register their own name as one of the new domain names? If you have a big enough wallet, yes you can. Right now the cost to file an application is about $200,000. But Chehade hopes that price will come down as the costs for maintaining it come down.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.

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