EC Welcomes International Domain Names

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Viviane Reding hails the arrival of non-Latin domain names, but demands that governments do more to protect public online interests

EU commissioner Viviane Reding has voiced her support for the introduction of non-Latin domain names at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Sharm El Sheikh, describing the move as a “big step to a truly global and at the same time local internet”.

The web regulating body, known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), announced that it would open up the domain name system to non-Latin characters in late October. It introduced an International Domain Name (IDN) fast track process, which it claims will bring “the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names”. Egypt has already expressed its intention to be the first nation to have a domain name using Arabic script.

“Round the world, work on IDN Top Level Domains is now well advanced, and final steps towards their introduction should be taken in the coming months,” said Reding in her opening speech. “This is especially important to the European Union, which works in so many languages.

“Non-Latin characters are essential for languages like Bulgarian, which uses Cyrillic; and Greek – the Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the early 8th century BC. We want to let internet users and businesses have internationalised domain names on our own Top Level Domain – .eu – as soon as possible.”

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Reding also called on governments to take responsibility for protecting the general public’s interests in relation to public policy internet issues. She described the IGF as a “unique forum where we can engage in open, non-binding and multi-stakeholder dialogue,” but emphasised that the success of the forum is largely dependent upon “the participation of governments and public administrations, which each must play their special part in the governance of the internet”.

She gave the examples of online child protection and secure e-commerce as areas where governments should actively be protecting and promoting public interests. However, her focus was on the key role of governments in keeping the internet free and open.

“We all know that the Internet has grown so rapidly because of its openness. This is why it has become such a valuable economic resource. If users want an open and neutral internet, they must actively encourage their governments to protect it,” she said.

While ICANN’s strategy to introduce IDNs promises to broaden the scope of the internet and move it away from a US-centric domain structure, some commentators have expressed concern that rapid growth in the number of domains will lead to issues of root scaling, cybersquatting and trademark infringement. The problem could be further exacerbated by the impending introduction of new top level domain names (TLDs), which will potentially lead to an overwhelming amount of cyber-clutter.

ICANN has been criticised for the delay in its introduction of TLDs by people wanting to start their own “dot-anything” domain, but the internet regulator has said it has to be careful.

“We’re aware that delay favours incumbents. We’re aware that delay is costly and may, in fact, deprive us, if it goes on for much longer, of the very innovation that this project was intended to help stimulate,” admitted ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate-Thrush. “On the other hand, delay is caused by the fact that we have to do this very carefully… This is a balancing exercise for the board. There’s no intention to delay. We just have to make sure we do it properly.”


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