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Multilingual internet impossible without Universal Acceptance

On June 22-25, ICANN held its ICANN68 Policy Forum. Once again held in the online format, the conference included 50 sessions that covered topical issues for the global domain community such as registration of potentially malicious domain names during the COVID-19 pandemic, implementation of DNSSEC, new opportunities and risks for DNS related to the Internet of Things, support of country code top-level domains and internationalized domain names, and other topics too.

Around 1,000 experts representing 150 countries participated in the virtual meeting, including representatives of the Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ.

The ICANN forum in particular focused on Universal Acceptance (UA), a principle that ensures that all acceptable domain names and email addresses are accepted, verified, stored, processed and displayed correctly and equally across all applications and internet services. This issue was discussed at three sessions.

On June 23, during an open session for internet and channel providers, Dr Ajay Data, Chair of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), presented a brief review of the group’s progress and also spoke about the Universal Acceptance Local Initiative in the CIS and Eastern Europe that was established in December 2019. Chief Analyst of the Coordination Center Maria Kolesnikova was appointed to lead the local initiative. In addition to this regional working group, there are also local initiatives in India and China; two more are expected to be launched in Turkey and Thailand.

On June 25, the At-Large session on multilingual internet discussed UA from the perspective of end users. Participants suggested that a truly multilingual internet is the internet based on the principle of Universal Acceptance that supports Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) and Email Address Internationalization (EAI) as well as content in national languages. Content-related issues are usually outside the scope of competence for ICANN; however, it is the tools that are developed with the corporation’s involvement that help multilingual content to become more available to end users. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure full-fledged utilization of these tools – for example, when it comes to correct processing of URL links containing IDNs, technical implementation of correct sending and receipt of messages via email addresses containing characters from national alphabets, and acceptance and processing of such emails by various online services and applications. Roberto Gaetano from the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) was one of the speakers who specifically covered this topic.

Roberto Gaetano also noted that today in Europe, there are nine country-code IDNs that are developing rather slowly, especially compared to the Russian Cyrillic domain, .РФ, the number of registrations in which is much higher than in the majority of internationalized country-code top-level domains. Based on his experience, UA Ambassador to China Walter Wu argued that large companies and private individuals often consider the importance of implementing UA in their own information ecosystems only after they have purchased a domain name in their national language and first faced well-known limitations.

Dot.Asia CEO Edmon Chung, who has been dealing with IDN support for almost 20 years now, noted that internationalized domains have become integral to the internet infrastructure and UA is one of the five main strategic vectors for ICANN for the next five years; consequently, full-scale IDN and EAI support is essential and requires active involvement of all the interested parties.

ICANN’s IDN Programs Director Sarmad Hussain presented research results concerning acceptance of email addresses of all existing formats (EAI and emails created in new domains containing more than three characters) by websites. He also spoke about the major areas of work for the UASG local initiatives and UA ambassadors. They include discussing technical aspects of local UA implementation, professional training, raising awareness of internationalized domain names and emails among end users in order to shape demand for such services; and, finally, encouraging commercial software owners to improve their software based on UA principles.

During the next session organized by the ICANN Government Advisory Committee (GAC), the GAC Universal Acceptance and Internationalized Domain Names Working Group presented its latest progress report. Established in 2019 in Montreal following ICANN66, the working group currently includes 10 representatives of the GAC from several countries. The working group participants identified three major areas of responsibility for the group. They include developing Universal Acceptance promotional material for the public sector and governments of different countries; analyzing successful examples of UA implementation into existing systems (i.e., the ICANN system); and organizing UA webinars for the public sector. The working group is also discussing a framework document for GAC members that would expand their knowledge about UA, and criteria for determining whether governments or their contractors are ready for Universal Acceptance.

“During one of ICANN68 pre-sessions on June 11, participants prepared for discussions on Universal Acceptance. UASG Chair Dr Ajay Data presented the group’s 2019 results and plans for the next fiscal year,” reported Maria Kolesnikova. “UA workshops were one of the priority tasks for UASG in the previous reporting period. A workshop on fine-tuning IDN and EAI support organized by the Coordination Center for the Russian technical community was mentioned as a local example of these efforts.”

Maria Kolesnikova also added that next year, UASG will focus on detecting and fixing technical gaps that prevent broad implementation of Universal Acceptance by the technical community, as well as on continuing and expanding communications with interested parties that are able to influence UA implementation globally and locally.

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