MARINA DEL REY, Calif. - To relieve overcrowding in dot-com addresses, the international organization in charge of Internet names could select several new suffixes by week's end.
The move would represent the first major expansion of Web names since the existing structure was developed in the 1980s.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers begins a four-day meeting Monday to consider 44 proposed suffixes.
Adding new suffixes is like adding new telephone area codes to accommodate growth. But new suffixes also could lead to a new round of cybersquatting - the registration of names by speculators who hope to resell them for hundreds or thousands of dollars.
More than 24 million names are registered under .com, .net and .org, and the best ones have been taken. Many Web sites are forced to use longer names or complicated abbreviations.
With the proposed change, a labor union might claim a .union name and leave the .com version to its employer. An individual named Ford might take Ford.nom, since Ford.com belongs to the motor company.
Plus, a new suffix such as .health could provide a channel for prescreened health information, so that consumers would not have to guess how reliable a dot-com site might be.
Any decisions are bound to be controversial. When the U.S. government selected ICANN in 1998 to take over naming policies, the organization inherited disagreements going back to the mid-90s.
An ICANN task force recommended that the board move slowly, picking six to 10 for now to test their effect on the global network and its users.
Last week, a separate group of advisers recommended choosing from among 16 proposals, though the board is free to consider any of the 44 applications submitted. Names on the table include .web, .biz, .coop and .museum.
Some companies aren't waiting for ICANN to act. Many of the proposed names, including .web and .biz, have been available for years through directories that fall outside ICANN's control.
But the vast majority of computers worldwide point to domain name servers that get their basic information from the 13 root servers officially designated by ICANN and the U.S. government. Those servers do not recognize .web and .biz yet, and attempts to reach a site that way would produce an error message.
On the Net:
Watchdog group: http://www.icannwatch.org