ICANN approves the introduction of internationalized domain names
On Thursday 25 June the Board of Directors of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit corporation that coordinates the global Internet system of unique identifiers, at the closing of its 32 International public meeting in Paris, unanimously approved the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) in the top level of Internet addresses.
The board endorsed the IDNC Working Group Report on recommendations for the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names, to expand the world's Domain Name System and to work on adapting it to accommodate Country Code Top Level Domain Names (ccTLDs) in scripts other than Latin, such as Arabic, Cyrillic or Devanagri, and ideographic writing systems, such as Japanese, Korean or Chinese.
This process is a major improvement in the development of the Internet as a global information and communication tool as it will enable multi-script addressing and therefore ensure access to millions of users who are currently deprived of this core resource of Knowledge Societies due to language constrictions.
In September 2006 ICANN Board charted a multi-stakeholder working group on Internationalized Domain Names (IDNC WG) to develop and report on feasible methods that would enable the introduction, in a timely manner and in a way that ensures the continued security and stability of the Internet, of a limited number of "non-contentious" IDN ccTLDs, associated with the ISO 3166-1 list of two-letter country codes (such as .fr for France or .jp for Japan). The introduction of a limited number of IDN ccTLDs under the recommendations of this Working Group, popularly known as "fast track" mechanism, must not pre-empt the ultimate long-term policy outcomes of the IDN cc Policy Development Process (ccPDP).
Building from UNESCO's Leading role in the WSIS implementation, the Organization participated at the first two phases of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). At the second IGF in Rio de Janeiro in November 2007, UNESCO, ITU and ICANN organized a joint workshop on "Multilingualism in Cyberspace" where the three organizations committed themselves to cooperatively develop international standards for building a truly multilingual Internet including Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).
Aiming at raising awareness among its Member States on the importance of IDNs for ensuring cultural and linguistic diversity in the Internet, in May 2008 UNESCO organized an information meeting with its permanent delegations entitled 'Using your script to access the internet' which provided essential information about main issues in Internet Governance, Multilingualism and inform action about the international fora where governments can participate.
Ensuring a multilingual cyberspace is part of the organization's mandate of promoting linguistic and cultural diversity. In January 2008 UNESCO joined the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN with an observer status and participated at the GAC's work for the preparation of the IDNC WG Report.
During the 32nd ICANN meeting in Paris, UNESCO participated in the GAC sessions and promoted its role as UN Specialized Agency in charge of the promotion of Cultural and Linguistic diversity. In particular UNESCO offered its capacity in providing linguistic expertise, raising awareness in those countries that use a non-Latin script(s) and building capacity in Member States.
UNESCO's contribution has been included in the final IDNC WG Report and in the official communiqué of the GAC to the ICANN Board, and has been stressed during the board meeting by the Chair of the GAC, Ambassador Janis Karklins: 'The GAC believes that it is appropriate for an applicant to provide authentication of the meaning of the selected string [i.e. the domain name] from an internationally recognized organization. UNESCO could be one such organization.'
The importance of the contribution that IGOs can bring to the Internationalization of the domain names also was addressed by a member of the ICANN board, Mr Reinhard Scholl, Deputy to the Director of the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, who stated that: 'the communiqué also mentioned a welcomed presentation by UNESCO and ITU representatives regarding a proposed collaboration between their organizations and ICANN to advance multilingualism on the Internet.'
The way forward
Further to UNESCO's contribution through the GAC to the IDNs process, UNESCO conducted direct information meetings with ICANN executive staff to explore possible future collaborations between the two organizations. These might include agreements in the framework of concrete projects or the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure that all linguistic and cultural communities have their presence in the Internet.
UNESCO's role in the development of a long term strategy for the implementation of Internationalized Domain Names requires a full engagement toward the next ICANN meeting, November 2008 in Cairo and political advocacy for the third IGF in Hyderabad.
Following the launch of this process in Paris, it is important that UNESCO brings its input in the upcoming months when the long term policy will be discussed and adopted. Furthermore, the Cairo meeting will be an occasion to involve the UNESCO Cairo Office and enhance its coordination with the headquarters, contributing to the multi-stakeholder regional project of Arabization of Domain Names under UNESCWA.