ICANN makes progress on international domain names

During its meeting in Puerto Rico, ICANN made good progress on issues like international domain names, leaders said.

Participants made good progress discussing changes to Internet governance during an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting in Puerto Rico that closed on Friday, leaders of the organization said.

One topic that leaders worked on was the future enablement of non-Latin characters in domain names. ICANN hopes to support Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese and other characters in the future but that's easier said than done.

In 2003, ICANN made an attempt to widen the acceptable characters but found that its rules were too permissive, said Vint Cerf, ICANN's chairman. "There could be confusion between similar registrations that might mislead users," he said during a conference call to discuss the meeting.

One potential source of confusion is that some characters in different alphabets might look similar but mean different things. For example, in Cyrillic, the word for "restaurant" looks in the Latin alphabet like "pectopaht." That opens the door for users to register domains in different languages in a way that could confuse users. ICANN hopes to develop rules that will prevent such confusion.

ICANN plans to be able to test the use of international domain names live on the Internet by November. The test will include a mechanism to take them out instantly if they create a problem, Cerf said. The group has already tested the process in the lab. "We are confident that none of the infrastructure is likely to encounter problems but you never really know until it's in that live environment," he said.

The meeting also included a discussion on continuing to encourage IPV6 use. That's particularly important now because ICANN has determined the current system, supported by IPV4, for allocating the numerical address space will exhaust available numbers around 2011 or 2012, Cerf said. The wide adoption of IPV6 will support the continued addition of new numerical addresses.

Cerf said there was significant progress in efforts to enable digital signatures to help authenticate the match between domain names and Internet addresses. The digital signature would validate that the Internet address associated with a domain name wasn't corrupted, either maliciously or accidentally. "This is a significant change in the core architecture of DNS [domain name system]," he said.

The group also worked on developing a more regular process for allowing the introduction of additional generic top-level domains. ICANN worked on such policies in 2000 and 2003 and will take those experiences and try to establish a more regular practice for making additional domain names available, Cerf said. ICANN is on track for the introduction of new domains by the middle of 2008.

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