ICANN Approves International Domain Names

Web addresses will expand beyond the Roman letters A-Z and digits 0-9.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

November 2, 2009

2 Min Read

The private organization responsible for overseeing the operational stability of the Internet approved on Friday the use of non-Roman characters in Web addresses, initially making it possible to use native language characters in domains controlled by national governments.

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers described its decision as marking the "biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago."

"This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet ," Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The purpose of the change is to help bring online the billions of people around the world who never use Roman characters in their daily lives. Where Web addresses today can only use the letters A-Z and digits 0-9, they will evolve over the coming years to also include many of the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world.

Initially, however, the change will only apply to country-code top level domains controlled by national governments. Such Web address have endings such as .cn, .uk or .us, which stand for China, United Kingdom and the United States, respectively. Such ccTLDs cover about about 40% of Web sites. The rest have endings such as .com, .net and .org, which are obtained commercially. Internationalization of the latter TLDs is expected to occur in the coming years.

ICANN plans to launch Nov. 16 a Fast Track Process that will allow nations and territories to apply for Internet extensions reflecting their names and made up of characters from their national languages. If ICANN approves the application, then the applicant can start accepting registrations of Web addresses.

The approval of internationalized domain names followed years of intense technical testing, policy development and global co-operation, ICANN said.

"Our work on IDNs has gone through numerous drafts, dozens of tests, and an incredible amount of development by volunteers since we started this project," Tina Dam, ICANN's senior director for IDNs, said.

ICANN, headquartered in Marina Del Rey, Calif., oversees a number of Internet-related tasks related to managing the assignment of domain names and Internet protocol addresses. The Internet Engineering Task Force develops and promotes technical standards related to the global data network.

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