ICANN to move toward Internationalized Domain Names

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers appears poised to move forward on allowing Internationalized Domain Names, with a vote on the matter set for Friday at the organization's meeting in Seoul.

For the last five years, ICANN has come under pressure to move away from the use of Web addresses written only in the Roman alphabet, so that users around the world can write Web addresses in their own languages and scripts. Some countries are impatient to adopt their own domain name systems for doing this, but such moves could fragment the Internet, making parts of it invisible to countries not using the same DNS.

IDNs have been undergoing tests for the last three years and starting Nov. 16 countries can apply to test country-code Top-Level Domains.

"This is the biggest change technically to the Internet since it was invented 40 years ago," said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the ICANN board, during a press conference at ICANN's meeting in Seoul.

While some parts of a URL can be written in non-Latin languages, the country-code portion, such as .ru (Russia) or .jp (Japan), for instance, must use the Roman alphabet. Chinese, Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Hindi, Hebrew and Russian have been among the languages that cannot be used in a ccTLD or full e-mail address. For instance, a business card might be written in Korean, but the Internet domain and e-mail address were in English.

"The idea of multiple internets is a potential threat and IDN has countered that," said ICANN CEO and President Rod Beckstrom.

The reality of multiple internets was demonstrated a few years ago when China created one that could use Chinese characters and pointed to the .cn domain but was not visible outside China.

"The Chinese internet creates an island on the internet but doesn't favor businesses that want to communicate and sell products and services to the world," said Steve DelBianco, executive director of NetChoice.

Out of the 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide, 56% use languages that have scripts based on alphabets other than Latin, which was a catalyst in the IDN process.

It is possible that the next 2 billion users will not speak Latin-based languages and it's only fair that the DNS allow them to access the Internet in languages they understand best, added DelBianco.

Currently, IDNs are only available under the ICANN fast-track process for country TLDs and not generic TLDs such as .com, .net or .org, but the ICANN community wants testing to spread quickly.

"Out of 170 million domains, about 40 percent are ccTLDs, which underscores the need to test the IDN on gTLDs fast to allow even more users to access the Internet," DelBianco said.

It is expected that by the time the next ICANN meeting is held in Nairobi in March, countries like Russia, Japan and China will have tested their ccTLDs and have advice for others that want to go through the testing process.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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