International web addresses approved

Icann decision opens up the internet

Hundreds of millions of people will soon be able to access the internet entirely in their mother tongue following a landmark decision.

Board members at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) approved plans to allow domain names in non-Latin scripts such as Chinese, Arabic and Russian yesterday morning. The project, entitled the Internationalised Domain Name Fast Track Process, has been given the green light after several years of political wrangles and exhaustive technical testing. Although work on the initiative formally begins on November 16th 2009, the first internationalised domain names (IDNs) are not expected until the middle of next year.

IDNs in numbers

Since the birth of the internet, the Domain Name System (DNS) has only accepted web addresses with a very limited number of Latin characters. Now, Icann is taking its first steps towards incorporating 100,000 characters from languages across the globe. There are 1.67 billion internet users, according to Internet World Stats, and it's estimated that more than half speak languages with non-Latin scripts so the potential market for international web addresses is vast.

Rod Beckstrom, president and chief executive officer of Icann, has hailed today's decision. "This is only the first step but it is an incredibly big one and a historic move," he said. "The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the DNS, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online."

Icann is commonly described as the regulator of the internet. The non-profit organisation coordinates top-level domains like .org and country code top-level domains such as .uk, while it also has the final say on creating new domains like .xxx and .mobi.