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-------------------------------------------------------------- This story was printed from ZDNetAsia, located at,2000010021,20168645,00.htm. --------------------------------------------------------------
Call to standardize Asian domain names
By Anita Devasahayam and Julian Matthews,
December 22, 2000

Multi-lingual domain names will end English bias, but there is a need to set standards first to avoid complications in the future.

KUALA LUMPUR: Asian Internet advocates are in support of the use multi-lingual domain name registration, but expressed reservations on the rush to register using non-compatible technology.

"I have some concerns. Some companies are already offering such non-English domain names in Asia. But these are not compatible with the global Internet system, and they cannot communicate with the outside world," said Masanobu Katoh, the first Asian elected to domain name governing body Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Katoh said he is all for diversity, but not at the expense of destabilizing the Net. "The Internet should be a place where we all can enjoy our different cultures and languages. Such diversity is very important. Many of us are not using English as the first language, and availability of regional languages helps a lot to promote the use of the Internet. But we need to agree and implement a standard in order to make future multi-lingual domain names compatible and interoperable with the current Internet system," he said an email response.

Multi-lingual domain names are viewed as "prime land" in cyberspace, given waning interest in English dotcom names. Web addresses were previously limited to the 26 letters of the English alphabet, 10 numerals and a hyphen.

Various registrars have already begun to exploit demand in Asian names using competing standards for names in Chinese, Korean and Japanese. But the registrars may have jumped the gun as legacy root servers of the global domain name system still only recognize the English-language characters.

Experts say without an agreed standard, the new names may have a destabilizing effect on the Net. Thousands of domain name servers across the world may need to be upgraded and Web surfers could be blocked from many sites.

Malaysian Internet pioneer Dr Mohamed Awang Lah said that standards should be set first as the new registrations "could potentially cause chaos."

"There must be some element of control and coordination. How would you get democracy' without any 'control'? I agree that no single company should have monopolistic control on the registering process, however, if it is a governing body that is properly elected than that body can regulate the process," he said.

Dr Mohamed, who is also chief operating officer of local technology research house Mimos Bhd, however, indicated that it may be already too late to halt the use of Asian language domain names.

"I don't think anybody can stop it. This is the way the Internet has been developed since the very beginning. If people like something new on the Internet, it will get developed better and better," he said.

ICANN's Katoh said the standard-setting authority Internet Engineering Task Force has been "working hard" towards a global standard for non-English domain names.

But Izumi Aizu, secretary general of Asia Pacific Internet Association, suggested that the standard-setting process may be too slow. "They should speed it up, because some registrars have already started registering the new names," he said.

At least two such registrars are at loggerheads on the issue.

VeriSign Inc's subsidiary Network Solutions, the dominant American registrar, launched a test of a multilingual system last month that allows users to register domain names in Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters.

The same week, China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC), introduced a competing Chinese character registration system and named nine domestic firms - but no foreign ones - to effect registrations. The Chinese registrar is the sole mainland authority allowed by its government to register Chinese-character addresses.

CNNIC has strongly criticized VeriSign for attempting to corner the market in Chinese domain names and for "infringing on China's sovereignty".

Both registrars have reportedly registered thousands of domain names already, with VeriSign claiming 700,000 registrations in a single month.

Aizu shared concerns on the motives of competing registrars trying to control the new registrations. "My concerns are not only towards VeriSign, but to any entity trying to dominate. How can the Chinese government claim rights to 'owning' the Chinese characters? That should not be the case," he said.

Aizu, who is also principal of research outfit Asia Network Research, conceded, however, that Asian businesses and government leaders were previously not very vocal in expressing their views on Internet governance.

"This is one turf war that will define the rules of engagement in cyberspace. Most US multinationals understand what's at stake. But Asian companies have been slow to define a role for themselves. Similarly, while the US and European Union governments are actively involved, most Asian governments have been passive at best."

Aizu believes in order for the Internet to become useful for ordinary people in Asia, local languages are critical, even at the domain-name level. "It may become increasingly difficult to separate economic development from the Internet economy. Without increased access for Asians, the emerging digital economy will almost certainly produce a digital divide."