Internet inches closer to 'internationalisation'

The first applications were accepted on Monday for internationalised domain names (IDNs), in one of the most significant steps to making the Internet more accessible around the globe.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has opened the application process, ending the exclusive use of Latin characters for website addresses.

On the first day, "we have already received six applications from around the world for three different scripts," ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom told an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

He said that while ICANN could not reveal the names of those applying, Egypt - with .misr, meaning Egypt in Arabic - and Russia had already made public their applications for country code top level domains in their scripts.

With the introduction of "internationalised" domain names (IDNs), scripts such as Chinese, Korean or Arabic will eventually be usable in the last part of an address name - the part after the dot, as in .com and .org.

"It's an historic moment," Beckstrom said.

"Of 1.6 billion (Internet users), more than half are born using languages that do not use Latin scripts, so this means that for more than half of users today of the Internet, they will be able to type domain names entirely in their own language," he said.

He said it would take time to process the applications but hoped that by 2010 the entries would make it to the Internet.

Egyptian Communication Minister Tarek Kamel said the process would require "strong investment in the coming phase."

"There will also be issues to deal with: linguistic, technical, legal, related to intellectual property and many other big challenges," Kamel told reporters on the sidelines of the IGF.

The Fourth Meeting of the IGF groups more than 1,500 representatives of government, advocacy groups, non-governmental organisations and the private sector to discuss the future of the Internet.

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