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The Road to ICANN80 in Rwanda

June 7, 2024

By: Susan Chalmers, NTIA Internet Policy Specialist  

Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson will join leaders from around the world to promote the importance of a multilingual Internet as part of the ICANN80 Policy Forum in Kigali, Rwanda this month.

There are more than 7,000 languages and dialects spoken around the world, but only about 10 languages have any substantial presence online. Ensuring people have the ability to access Internet content in their native languages is an important part of meaningful connectivity. But a truly multilingual Internet can only be achieved through multistakeholder collaboration. ICANN plays an important role in this regard.  

Assistant Secretary Davidson will lead the U.S. Delegation to the ICANN80 High Level Government Meeting (HLGM) and Policy Forum in Kigali on June 9.

  • The HLGM brings governments together from around the world to discuss Internet governance and the crucial role that governments play in shaping policy for the Internet’s global Domain Name System.  
  • Key topics at ICANN80 include evolution of the multistakeholder system of Internet governance, digital inclusion, and meaningful connectivity.

Ahead of ICANN80, NTIA is publishing a workshop report from the IGF2023 Session 297 Digital Inclusion Through a Multilingual Internet, which the agency co-organized with DotAsia at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Kyoto, Japan last year.  

When the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) was introduced in 1983, it only catered to Latin script. Its first few Top Level Domains (TLDs) were based on English words, for example .com (commercial), or .net (for network providers). This paved the way for an English-dominant web. The ICANN community later introduced more than 150 “Internationalized Doman Names,” or IDNs, into the Internet’s naming system, including  موقع. (.site in Arabic), and .みんな (.everyone in Japanese). Work on IDNs is ongoing at ICANN.

But to make full use of IDNs -  to give local language content a place to live on the Internet - there must be Universal Acceptance of all domain names and email addresses. This means equal treatment of all domain names, including those in non-Latin scripts like Arabic, Chinese, or Sinhala, by all software applications.

One example highlighted in the report: A person whose native language is Arabic and who has an email address in Arabic has downloaded an airline’s mobile app to check in for a flight. Though the app content may be available in the Arabic language, the app does not recognize an Arabic email address when the person tries to sign in.

The report published by NTIA outlines key findings from the workshop discussion last year, including:

  • There is great latent demand for Internationalized Domain Names and Universal Acceptance solutions. There are some reports that indicate Internet multilingualism presents a $10 billion growth opportunity.
  • But policies are needed to meet that demand and promote Universal Acceptance, or UA. For example, government procurement policies could favor vendors who can demonstrate that their systems are UA ready.

The report also highlights the role of multistakeholder collaboration to achieve a multilingual Internet. The effort through the IGF represents one aspect of the work NTIA is doing to support that multistakeholder engagement.  

In addition, NTIA is engaging within the Governmental Advisory Council of ICANN, across the relevant International Telecommunications Union bodies that conduct work on multilingualism, and intends to collaborate with other governments and stakeholders at future IGF sessions. Looking ahead, NTIA will continue to contribute to the multistakeholder collaboration that is critical to achieving Internet multilingualism and the meaningful connectivity it enables. 

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