How Does the Global Village Protect the Internet When We Don't Speak the Same Language? : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Can ICANN Make a Global Net?

by Mats A. Palmgren

3:00 a.m. 9.Mar.2000 PST

CAIRO, Egypt - The dominance of English on the Internet may hinder the creation of new top-level domains, said participants meeting here Wednesday at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

The problem with this bias on the Net -- and by ICANN itself -- is that most of the world is not English-literate, conference attendees said.

"For the parents of a 10-year-old child in China who wants to email his/her friends, learning the English alphabet may not be the first concern," said Fay Howard, who represented the Constituency Group for Country Code Top-level Domains (ccTLD).

Representing domains that include .eg, .uk., and .se, Howard said multilingual domain names are a natural step.

"We used to address all envelopes in French although the letters inside were written in another language," she said.

The ccTLD said several solutions would enable Internet users to work entirely in their own language. Among them: a program that converts characters, systems running in parallel, and large Intranets used as national Internets.

The noncommercial domain name group, represented by Kathy Kleinman, called for the creation of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) for noncommercial use.

"The ICANN board should expedite, and move forward, as quickly as possible with the roleout of new gTLDs," Kleinman said. "The noncommercial domain-name holders constituency supports the rapid creation of chartered and uncharted gTLDs for noncommercial use."

But ICANN "won't create TDLs this week," said board member Rob Blokzijl of the Netherlands. "Before we create generic TDLs we need to reach agreement in community about some simple rules."

Most such rules are technical, he said, but emphasized the need to keep the focus on the end users.

"Another dot-com will not help end users. It's nice for people in the naming business and trademark lawyers who get more business with more problems," he said.

On the flip side, "Some issues are not too difficult to implement, like dot-art. That is an easy one to define," Blokzijl said.

The ccTDL group also is addressing the issue of creating a .eu top-level domain for the European Union, which Howard said would be useful to pan-European countries that no longer identify with a particular nation. The group will meet again in Brussels on 28 March and discuss the .eu domain's merit for end users, as well as the legal issues.

Trademark holders, Howard explained, oppose the suggestion because they believe it would produce yet more wrangling over their rights. For the domain name registrars, who think the dot-coms are getting all the kudos, it has become a priority issue.

The EU already has issued .eu as a reserve code, or a domain that works as an alias. For example, Great Britain is using .uk, rather than .gb, because the latter domain would have been politically incorrect, Howard said. But the .uk reserve code posed problems when the Ukraine entered the Internet space.

Blokzijl said he expects the board to come up with new regulations for ccTLD this week.

But Blokzijl said ICANN doesn't need universal rules. "The less the better. A couple of simple rules are sufficient."

South African Derrick Cogburn, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, said ICANN needs to explain its mission better, and not only in English.

This point was illustrated at Tuesday's opening session, when ICANN chairwoman Esther Dyson asked more than 500 people at the ICANN/Cainet conference to explain what ICANN does. No one was willing to step up to the podium.

Many, however, agreed with Cogburn. Translation of ICANN documents on the Web were called for and someone pointed out it would be wise to underline the responsibilities of the electorate, or ICANN will one day stand against the wall.

"I think it would be a failure if this election is not highly represented and trusted," said participant Marilyn Cacle.

In the spirit of digital democracy, ICANN is putting a working document on its email list, so those that couldn't make the trip can voice an opinion. The group expects to have decisions made on key issues by the time it meets again next summer.

"People quite rightly feel they have waited long enough," Howard said.

In addition, there is a growing consensus to move ahead with electronic elections of ICANN board members.

Sigfried Langenbach of Germany, representing ISPs, said his group supports the idea of at-large membership, but getting the procedures right are problematic.

"Give us more time for the at-large membership. We don't want too much instability," Langenbach said.

Link at Wired:,1283,34850-2,00.html

-- Jen Bunker (, March 10, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ