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October 27, 2009

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'Net's next trick: Non-Latin addresses

THE Internet is set to undergo one of its biggest changes with the expected approval this week of international domain names - or addresses - written in non-Latin script, an official said yesterday.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN - the non-profit group that oversees domain names - is meeting this week in Seoul, South Korea. Domain names are the monikers behind every Website, e-mail address and Twitter post, such as ".com" and other suffixes.

One of the key issues for ICANN is whether to allow entire Internet addresses that aren't based on Latin letters. That could potentially open the Web to more people around the world, with addresses in characters as diverse as Arabic, Korean, Japanese, Greek, Hindi and Cyrillic, the script used for Russian.

"This is the biggest change technically to the Internet since it was invented 40 years ago," said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the ICANN board, calling it a "fantastically complicated technical feature." He said he expects the board to grant approval on Friday.

The Internet's beginnings are traced to a US university in 1969. The Net started expanding to the general public in the early 1990s.

Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and CEO, said that if the change is made, ICANN would begin accepting applications for non-English domain names. He said the first entries would likely enter the system in mid-2010.

Of the 1.6 billion Internet users worldwide, Beckstrom said more than half use languages with scripts based on alphabets other than Latin.

"So this change is very much necessary for not only half the world's Internet users today, but more than half of probably the future users," he said.


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