Internet Takes Another Step Toward Being Truly "Worldwide"

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The move comes less than a month after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the Internet's naming and numbering systems, approved a plan to permit Web addresses in characters other than the Roman alphabet, including Arabic, Chinese, Hindi and Korean.

The first official international domain names are expected to begin appearing sometime next year.

Last month the 15-member ICANN board, meeting in Seoul, South Korea, voted unanimously to allow scripts other than Roman characters in domain names. The move came after six years of debate and technical work on the issue.

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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Monday ICANN launched the IDN (Internet Domain Name) ccTLD Fast Track Process through which it will accept requests from representatives of countries and territories around the world for new Internet extensions made up of non-Roman characters. Once the requests are evaluated and approved, they are expected to come online during 2010, according to a statement issued by ICANN.

"This is the biggest technical change to the Internet's addressing system " the Domain Name System " in many years," said Tina Dam, ICANN's Senior Director of Internationalized Domain Names, in the statement. "Right now, it's not possible to get a domain name entirely in for example Chinese characters or Arabic characters. This is about to change."

Egypt said it is launching the first Internet domain name to use Arabic script, according to a report published by The new suffix is pronounced "masr' which means "Egypt."

Altogether there are about 1.5 billion people online who use languages based on non-Latin scripts.