SINGAPORE — A quarter-century after the creation of ".com," the agency that assigns Internet addresses is planning to allow suffixes named after brands, hobbies, political causes and just about anything else.
Under guidelines approved Monday, Apple could register addresses ending in ".ipad," Citi and Chase could share ".bank" and environmental groups could go after ".eco." Japan could have ".com" in Japanese.
It's the biggest change to the system of Internet addresses since it was created in 1984.
More than 300 suffixes are available today, but only a handful, such as the familiar ".net" and ".com," are open for general use worldwide. Hundreds of new suffixes could be established by late next year, thousands in years to come.
"This is the start of a whole new phase for the Internet," said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California nonprofit organization in charge of Internet addresses.
The novelty addresses will be costly — $185,000 to apply and $25,000 a year to maintain one. A personal address with a common suffix such as ".com" usually costs less than $10 a year.
Canon Inc., the camera and printer company, already plans to apply for ".canon." And Apple could go after not just ".apple," but also ".ipad" and ".iphone." Apple had no comment Monday.
Groups have already formed to back ".sport" for sporting sites, and two conservationist groups separately are seeking the right to operate a ".eco" suffix. Trade groups for bankers and financial-services companies are jointly exploring applications for ".bank," ".insure" and ".invest" for their member companies.
"Things are going to have to be decided, like who's a better guardian for .golf? The PGA or some global group?" said Jeremiah Johnston, chief operating officer at Sedo.com, which helps companies resell domain names.
Internet addresses tell computers where to find a website or send an e-mail message. Without them, people would have to remember clunky strings of numbers such as "22.214.171.124" instead of "ap.org."
But the addresses have grown to mean much more. Amazon.com has built its brand on one, and bloggers take pride in running sites with their own domain names, uncluttered by the names of hosting services.
High-profile entertainment, consumer-goods and financial-services companies will likely be among the first to apply for the new suffixes to protect their brands when ICANN starts taking applications for new suffixes Jan. 12.
The organization says it costs tens of millions of dollars to write the guidelines for suffixes, review applications and resolve any disputes. Even with the hefty fees, the organization says it plans only to break even. It's also setting aside up to $2 million to subsidize applications from developing countries.
The expansion plan, which runs about 350 pages, took six years to develop.
ICANN has come up with procedures for any party to object to applications for trademark or other reasons.
Approval of individual applications is expected to be quick if there are no challenges for trademark, morality or other reasons. Proposals that are challenged would have to undergo more thorough reviews, including possible arbitration to decide on the merits of claims.
When two or more groups have a legitimate claim to an address, ICANN expects them to work it out on their own. If they can't, the nonprofit will auction the suffixes.
Despite the availability of new suffixes, Johnston, Sedo's CEO, said he doesn't expect the value of existing ".com" names to diminish. That's based on the limited number of additions to the system since 2000.
"Even though the new extensions come around, the ones that are most rooted and most popular in the minds of consumers, their value has only gone up," he said.