ICANN Approves Use Of Non-Latin Alphabets In Web Domain Names

a plan to permit Web addresses in characters other than the Latin alphabet

The 15-member board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), meeting in Seoul, South Korea, voted unanimously Friday to allow scripts other than Latin characters in domain names. The move came after six years of debate and technical work on the issue.

But the change will initially apply only to country-code domains controlled by governments, such as Web addresses that include .cn for china or .kr for Korea. Those domains account for about 40 percent of all Web sites globally, according to a story in The Wall Street Journal. Non-Latin versions of .com, .net and .org won't be allowed for at least several years.

"This represents one small step for ICANN, but one big step for half of mankind who use non-Latin scripts, such as those in Korea, China and the Arabic-speaking world, as well as across Asia, Africa and the rest of the world," said ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom just before the vote, according to an Associated Press story.

Until now domain names have been limited to the 26 characters in the Latin alphabet, A through Z, as well as the numerals 0 through 9 and the hyphen. That's forced Internet users with no understanding of English to type in Latin characters to reach Web sites that use non-Latin scripts.

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While many non-English languages use Latin scripts, such as German and Swahili, many do not, including Chinese, Korean and Arabic. The AP story said there are about 1.5 billion people online who use languages based on non-Latin scripts. Backers of the plan to expand Internet domains to non-Latin scripts have argued that doing so will make the Web more accessible to people with less education and lower income levels.

Goverments or their designees can begin submitting requests for specific domain names in non-Latin scripts on Nov. 16. That means Web surfers could begin seeing Internet domain names in Chinese and Arabic, scripts in which demand has been the highest, as soon as early 2010, according to the AP story.

The ICANN decision means that software developers will have to make sure their applications work with non-Latin scripts. The AP story said major Web browsers already do so, for example, but not all e-mail systems do.