Fast Track to expansion: Internet equality on the horizon with arrival of non-Roman IDNs accessible from 2010
‘One world. One Internet. Everyone connected’.
Language matters are hitting the headlines once more with the news of a move which will open up the Internet to millions of users worldwide. Presently, internationalized domain names (IDNs) are only available in 37 Latin characters – the letters A to Z, numbers 0 to 9 and the hyphen. But on 16 November 2009, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) launched their IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process with the announcement that domain names would be available in non-Roman scripts as soon as 2010 and in close to 100,000 characters. ‘IDNs are the biggest change to the underlying structure of the Internet since its creation 40 years ago’ stated Peter Dengate Thrush, ICANN Chairman.
ICANN is a not-for-profit international organization responsible for the management and coordination of the Internet’s domain name system. Formed in 1998, it is independent, unbiased and non-regulatory and has called for countries and territories to lodge requests for their own domain name to be available in their own language. ‘Over half the Internet users around the world don’t use a Latin-based script as their native language. IDNs are about making the Internet more global and accessible for everyone’ stated Rod Beckstrom, ICANN President and CEO. This is the largest shake up the Internet has seen for decades and will give Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic characters, to name but three, as much visibility and accessibility as their Roman-based IDN counterparts. Next year these addresses may well be commonplace on our screens and this opening-up of the Internet could be lauded as the widest-reaching example of social inclusion that cyberspace and the world have ever witnessed.
This is a positive step forward: children worldwide will be able to use the Internet in their mother tongue; people will use their own keyboards in their own languages to access the Internet; local businesses can create localized web addresses and it will be easier for medical organizations, local news agencies, schools and other bodies to disseminate information online. However, some concerns about the expansion of IDNs in countries where censorship is rife have been raised by human rights’ groups. They claim that a paradox has arisen whereby the expansion will be rolled out in countries where the Internet is heavily regulated, high speed connections are restricted and censorship prevails. There was the recent case in Thailand where two people were allegedly charged for the translation and online publication of a document making reference to the monarch’s health – a text which was readily available outside the country. Nevertheless, the move has proved popular and four days after the launch, ICANN’s blog confirmed that ten requests covering five different languages had already been lodged.
The ICANN program has taken over nine years to come to fruition, in a task highly dependent upon volunteers and let us not forget that it was volunteers who translated the Spanish version of Twitter – all of which demonstrates the strength of feeling towards language matters expressed by people across the globe. Rod Beckstrom said that ‘Some people see a cacophony. I see a symphony’ and it certainly appears to be a movement backed by thousands of people working in harmony to enable ICANN’s dream of ‘One world. One Internet. Everyone connected’ to become a reality.