The Internet is poised for potentially one of its biggest shakeups in years as an industry body prepares to vote on Monday on a proposal to open up new domain suffixes for private companies.
Under the changes to be decided at a meeting in Singapore, businesses would 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 could be in the vanguard of launching websites with their own domain names.
"New gTLDs represent one of the biggest changes to the Internet since its inception," said Michele Jourdan, communications manager for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
"While they won't have a technical impact on the way the Internet operates, they could potentially change the way people find information and how businesses plan and structure their online presence," she told AFP.
ICANN, a non-profit body managing the Domain Name System and Internet Protocol addresses that form the technical backbone of the Web, is holding a six-day global meeting in Singapore to discuss a range of matters.
Its board will vote on Monday on whether to proceed with the new gTLD programme, and an ICANN source said approval was expected.
"Corporations may choose to apply for their own domain, offering them new possibilities for structuring their online and offline presence," said Jourdan.
"They may also offer corporations better brand control.
"Additionally, entirely new domains may come into existence that bring about new commercial opportunities."
But it won't 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.
Adrian Kinderis, a Melbourne-based domain name expert, said big companies will have a golden opportunity to protect their trademarks in cyberspace if ICANN votes in favour of opening up the domain gates.
"One of the biggest issues we have right now is anybody can go register anything," Kinderis, the chief executive of domain name registry services provider AusRegistry International, told AFP.
"The new programme gives trademark holders an opportunity to go in first and secure their brand.
"If they don't have a legitimate trademark for it, then they don't get it. That's why it is better."
The proposed new gTLD programme also offers companies the opportunity to beef up their digital marketing campaigns, said Kinderis, who sits on one of ICANN's advisory boards.
"This is not just about going out to get a domain name," he said.
"You are actually getting an important part of the Internet real estate, it's the digital opportunity to build your message."
A Singapore-based branding expert, Graham Hitchmough, said companies will have a lot more leeway to reach out to their target audience if the new domain names are approved.
"It allows them an opportunity to articulate their brand and range of products in a more clear and consistent way," said Hitchmough, managing director at global agency Brand Union.