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ICANN approves non-Latin domain names

Organization that oversees domain names OKs system for non-Latin characters, a move designed to help regions around the world surf using their local languages.

The organization responsible for managing the assignment of domain names and IP addresses has approved a new plan to allow non-Latin characters in Web extensions.

Known as Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), the system is designed to globalize the Net so regions around the world can use their own local alphabet characters to surf in cyberspace, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said Friday.

Calling IDNs the "biggest technical change" to the Internet since its birth 40 years ago, ICANN unanimously approved the plan on the final day of its six-day conference in Seoul.

IDNs will allow domain names to be to be written in native character sets, such as Chinese, Arabic, and Greek. In charge of managing domain names, ICANN has argued that IDNs are necessary to expand use of the Web in regions where people don't understand English. Since its inception, the Internet has been limited to the Latin character set used by the U.S. and many other nations.

"The coming introduction of non-Latin characters represents the biggest technical change to the Internet since it was created four decades ago," said ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush in a statement. "Right now Internet address endings are limited to Latin characters--A to Z. But the Fast Track Process is the first step in bringing the 100,000 characters of the languages of the world online for domain names."

To expedite the new plan, ICANN will launch a Fast Track process on November 16. At that time, the organization will begin accepting applications from countries for new top level domains, or Internet extensions, based on each nation's character set.

Initially, the change will apply only to local country codes, such as .kr for Korea and .ru for Russia. Major top level domains (TLDs) such as .com, .net., and .org won't see non-Latin editions just yet. But ICANN is pushing to make progress on these major TLDs and hopes to include them in the IDN system before long.

ICANN had discussed and debated IDNs for years, during which time much testing, development, and global cooperation were needed to jump start the new system.

"This is a culmination of years of work, tests, study and discussion by the ICANN community," said Thrush. "To see this finally start to unfold is to see the beginning of an historic change in the Internet and who uses it."