[Read more session reports and updates from the 14th Internet Governance Forum]
The use of Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs) is an important step in the promotion of multilingualism on the Internet and in achieving universal acceptance (UA) – the concept that all domain names should be treated equally, irrespective of the languages and scripts they are written into. The Dynamic Coalition on Domain Name System Issues (DC-DNSI) held a meeting on how to enhance the adoption of IDNs and Email Address Internationalisation (EAI).
The session started with an overview of venues where UA is discussed, with a focus on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the UA Steering Group (UASG). UASG is a multistakeholder tasked with undertaking activities that will effectively promote the UA of all valid domain names and email addresses. As Mr Chris Disspain (ICANN) explained, ICANN has recently decided to place UA among its priorities over the next five years. In this decision, ICANN included all stakeholders: technology enablers, technology developers, e-mail providers, influential individuals and organisations, and government policymakers. UA is becoming more and more important as new IDNs are added to the root zone: there are now more than 12 000 top-level domains (TLDs) in Cyrilic, Arabic, and other non-Latin scripts. But UA is not only about IDNs; its scope also includes non-two-letter domains (i.e. new generic top-level domains consisting of more than two letters).
In a discussion on what needs to be done to support more UA, Ms Emily Taylor (CEO, Oxford Information Labs) mentioned that many browsers do not support IDNs (mobile browsers, however, are updated more regularly). Google, as one of the major players in the field, supports IDNs, a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in EAI. Another major hurdle might be the lack of IDN recognition in the HTML5 standard development. In the words of Mr Ram Mohan (Afilias), having IDNs per se is not sufficient. Success in the DNS should not be valued by the number of domains registered, but rather by the amount of content accessible on it. The technical community itself should do more promotion of IDN and EAI by using it extensively.
How does UA resonate with the public sector? Apart from good practices (for example, the State of Rajasthan in India assigning EAI to all 17 million of its citizens), governments often include digital inclusion in their agenda, a welcome starting point for policymakers in making a stronger push toward UA. Multilingualism in IDNs is playing an important role in the economic inclusion of Asian regions (India, China, Thailand), as presented by Mr Edmon Chung (CEO, DotAsia Organisation). According to him, we might need market intervention and specific programmes to motivate industry upgrades. The problem with UA is not on a technical level, but rather a collaboration issue among stakeholders. Governments are often obliged to use services in local languages, so the need to make the Internet accessible to all is pushing forward national agendas.
The audience suggested that the technical community is still not convinced about the necessity of using UA; however, the creation of ICANN working groups on this issue can help. The Dynamic Coalition on DNS Issues undertook a survey on public sector online policy with the objective to understand the perception of the multilingual Internet and UA. An account of this research can be found here.
By Arvin Kamberi