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3/26/2003
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Internet Domain Names In Other Languages Near

ICANN chairman says names in languages other than English should be available in the next few weeks or months

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Internet domain names in languages other than English should be available within the next few weeks or months, the chairman of the Internet's key oversight body said Wednesday.

Vincent G. Cerf said the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, would likely approve technical standards Thursday. The standards allow the world's computers built around English to recognize Chinese, Arabic and other languages.

"A great deal of progress has been made this week and I hope we will see progress as the weeks go by," Cerf said. "The technical standards are ready. Now the policy work has to be done.'"

Cerf made his comments at a weeklong ICANN meeting that ends Friday. ICANN is the body selected by the U.S. Commerce Department in 1998 to oversee the Net's addressing system, important for sending E-mail and finding Web sites.

The core computers that handle online addresses currently understand only the 26 English letters, 10 numerals and a hyphen, along with a period for splitting addresses into sections. Tildes, slashes and other characters are not part of the domain name and are handled by separate computers. Other languages must be converted into a string of the permitted characters.

For the past few years, a separate body, the Internet Engineering Task Force, has been working on how to convert all that smoothly, behind the scenes.

Though some non-English names have already been available on a test basis, ICANN's approval of the new standards would make them official and help ensure that they actually work.

Even with the changes, Cerf said, the domain name's suffix--like ".com" or ".org"-- would remain in English for the time being.

How soon users would be able to obtain domain names in other languages depends largely on the extent to which technicians using those languages have translated their alphabets into Internet protocol, Cerf said.

"The languages that are the most advanced are Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Those groups have done a tremendous amount of work to translate their scripts into domain names," Cerf said.

Meanwhile, the incoming president and chief executive of ICANN promised to reach beyond the developed world to create a more inclusive Internet.

On Thursday, Paul Twomey of Australia will replace Stuart Lynn and become the first non-American to oversee the day-to-day operations of an organization frequently criticized for being U.S.-centric.

"We are entering a period where we need to be focused on the fact that Internet is becoming more global and we need to focus on the global aspects, particularly developing countries," Twomey said.

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