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Board members of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) vote in Paris on Thursday. ((Michel Euler/Associated Press))

Internet regulators voted to loosen restrictions on internet names, a move that could allow thousands of variations of suffixes beyond the basic .com or .ca.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) overwhelmingly approved the new guidelines on Thursday in Paris after weeklong meetings.

The guidelines represent one of the biggest changes to the internet in its 25-year history.

New names won't begin appearing for several months and ICANN won't be deciding on specific ones. The organization must decide how much the new domain names will cost. The names are expected to cost over $100,000 apiece to help ICANN cover up to $20 million in costs.

The new guidelines could allow for domain names that have been requested, and denied by ICANN, for years, such as .xxx for adult websites and .post for postal service websites.

Companies with well-known names like eBay, Apple or Google could also end up requesting domain names if the new rules are approved, snatching up names like .ebay, .mac and .goog.

"What this really looks at is opening up that domain-name real estate so that people can have choice. They could place [their address] in dot com, or they could make choices based on what's on the market," ICANN vice-president Paul Levins told CBC News.

Previous rules stringent

Currently, top-level domain names are limited to a few suffixes, such as .com (commerce), .org (organization) or country names, like .ca (Canada), .fr (France) or .uk (United Kingdom).

Organizations have fought hard to get around the restrictions. Television companies, for example, have been paying the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu to use its rights to the .tv address.

Under the new rules, ICANN would allow any string of letters to be used in a domain name. The group is still considering a proposal that would permit addresses entirely in non-English languages for the first time.

There would be an arbitration process for people with objections to proposed names.

Arbitrators could also crack down on "cyber-squatters" — people who buy up domain names associated with well-known company brands so they can sell them back to the companies at high prices.