Dubai: A new dimension is unfolding online for Arab internet users with the addition of Arab domain names such as .emarat after two decades of English as the only language, said the man at the helm of the international organisation that keeps the internet working.

Rod Beckstrom, president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), said in an exclusive interview with Gulf News at Gitex yesterday that companies and community groups in the UAE can now apply for personal generic top level domains (gTLDs) in Arabic as well.

Major corporations such as Emaar, for example, or government agencies such as the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority could, in theory, file an application to Icann in January to replace .com or .net suffixes on the internet with .emaar or .tra.

Actual applicants won't be known until the applications process opens in January and continues until April 12.

Priority for communities

"If you have a community based application, you will get a higher priority," Beckstrom said of the application process. "Our policy development process favours communities."

In an extreme illustration of the Icann board's approval process, Beckstrom said an Apple Growers' Association application may receive higher priority than Apple computers based in California.

That said, many observers in the technical industry are predicting "that the majority of applications would come from business", Beckstrom said.

Beckstrom said he had heard that a company in the UAE was planning to file three new gLTD applications to Icann.

He said he was very surprised to hear that Icann may see as many as 100 gLTD applications filed from India alone.

Some forecasts estimate that Icann may see as many as 4,000 applications submitted to the California-based not-for-profit corporation that oversees 180 million domain names globally and the global web that handles one trillion internet transactions daily.

The application process is not guaranteed to be approved by the Icann board, and it will be relatively expensive, with each application requiring "an evaluation fee of $185,000 (Dh679,523)."

Once approved, Icann will charge a $25,000 annual fee to keep and maintain an applicant's very own personal domain name, he said.

With thousands of applications predicted, Icann is expecting a small number of disputes and, as part of the approval process, has built in a 30-day objection period to allow other parties to have their say on a proposed top-level domain name

When final approvals are announced, Beckstrom said online visitors to gLTD sites can depend on a secure experience because they will be familiar with unique personal domains compared to millions of .coms.

The new personal domain names will also offer entire communities with a means to validate their identities as a group.

Beckstrom said he received a letter from the chief of the global Zulu tribe asking about the possibility of a new .zulu gLTD. Such a personal domain name would be welcomed by Zulus scattered across the world who "want a place for them to come together on the internet".

For Beckstrom, who will vacate his position in mid-2012, the road ahead is clear. "People, I think, will put more trust in top-level domain names," he said.