Here are some questions and answers regarding plans to expand the Internet address system:
Q. What are domain names?
A. Think of them as shortcuts for navigating the Internet. Just as it's easier to find the Empire State Building at 350 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan rather than through its GPS coordinates, it's easier to type in "ap.org" rather than remember "126.96.36.199." Google and other search engines have reduced the need for domain names. But these search engines are essentially catalogs of the Internet, and they depend on the domain name to take you to what you're looking for. Also, domain names aren't used only for websites. The part after the "at" symbol in email addresses is the domain name.
Q. How many domain names are out there?
A. There are millions of domain names including "bbc.co.uk" and "Microsoft.com." If you're just thinking of the suffix, formally known as the top-level domain name, there are currently 312. The most popular is ".com," with about 100 million names registered. Anybody willing to pay $10 or less a year can get one. Others are restricted to certain groups, including ".aero" for the aviation industry and ".edu" for U.S. colleges and universities. The bulk of the suffixes are two-letter designations for countries and territories, such as ".fr" for France and ".aq" for Antarctica. Some countries also have suffixes in their native languages, so websites in China can use the Chinese equivalent of China rather than ".cn."
Q. Is the list static?
A. Suffixes come and go. The European Union gained ".eu," while Midway Islands and other U.S. minor outlying islands lost ".um." Following East Timor's independence, ".tp" became ".tl." A handful of others got added over the years, including ".biz" for businesses and ".xxx" for porn sites. On Thursday, bidding will begin for up to 1,000 more suffixes each year.
Q. Who decides these things?
A. An organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is in charge of domain name policies. The U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet's early development, delegated the task to that group in 1998. ICANN is a nonprofit organization with headquarters in California and has board members from around the world, though the Commerce Department retains limited oversight of the group.
Q. How do I get my own suffix?
A. Begin by submitting an application _ and paying a fee of $185,000. You'll need to make a 10-year commitment, during which you're liable for annual fees of at least $25,000. The money will pay for ICANN's costs setting up the system, reviewing applications and making sure parties do what they have promised once the suffix is operational. Some of the money will be set aside for potential lawsuits from unsuccessful applicants and others.
Q. I love Apple. When can I get my own website address ending in Apple?
A. Like many companies, Apple Inc. hasn't said whether it will seek ".Apple." It's also possible that an apple-growers group or the Beatles' management company, Apple Corps, will make a bid. It will be up to the company or organization winning the bid to decide whether a suffix is open to general use. It's doubtful Apple Inc. would let the public claim ".Apple" names if it gets the suffix, but entrepreneurs will likely propose other suffixes, such as ".web" and ".nyc," specifically for broader use.