ICANN approves internationalized domain names

Now users of non-Latin scripts will be able to write domain names entirely in their own language

Starting in mid-November, countries and territories will be able to apply to show domain names in their native language, a major technical tweak to the Internet designed to increase language accessibility.

On Friday, the Internet's addressing authority approved a Fast-Track Process for applying for an IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) and will begin accepting applications on Nov. 16.

The move comes after years of technical testing and policy development, said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which held a meeting in Seoul this week.

Currently, domain names can only be displayed using the Latin alphabet letters A-Z, the digits 0-9 and the hyphen, but in future countries will be able to display country-code Top Level Domains (cc TLDs) in their native language. ccTLDs are those that have a two-letter country designation at the end of a domain name.

In reality, the new domain names will be stored in the DNS as sequences of letters and numbers beginning xn-- in order to maintain compatibility with the existing infrastructure. The characters following the xn-- will be used to encode a sequence of Unicode characters representing the country name.

One of the primary concerns with implementing IDNs is the security and stability of the Domain Name System (DNS). That system enables the translation of domain names written with characters and digits into IP (Internet Protocol) addresses, which can then be queried by a Web browser.

ICANN said it would initially allow for a "limited" number of IDNs, which are subject to ICANN's approval and stability testing. Still, there are likely to be hiccups, ICANN warned.

"The usability of IDNs may be limited, as not all application software is capable of working with IDNs," ICANN said in a59-page proposal dated Sept. 30 that describes the Fast Track process. "It is up to each application developer to decide whether or not they wish to support IDNs. This can include, for example, browsers, email clients, and sites where you sign up for a service or purchase a product and in that process need to enter an e-mail address."

ICANN has set some language restrictions for IDNs: they must be in an official language of a country or territory and have legal status or at minimum "serve as a language of administration."

According to the proposal, ICANN will charge registries US$26,000 for an evaluation processing fee, which can be paid in the local currency. ICANN would also like an annual contribution fee of 3 percent of a registries revenue, which can be as low as 1 percent for low-volume registries. For both fees, registries can request a fee waiver, ICANN said.

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Jeremy Kirk

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