The decision came out of ICANN's Board of Directors meeting in Carthage, Tunisia this week and is expected to soon allow domain names made up entirely of non-English characters to register Top-Level Domain (TLD) names without the standard ICANN-approved suffixes like ".com," ".net," or ".org."
Tunisia was one of the first Arab and African countries to be connected to the Internet.
ICANN's CEO and President Dr. Paul Twomey is steering the governing body in the direction of resolving some long-standing issues with the international Internet community.
According to Twomey, the way the current TLD system is arranged, foreign, non-speaking countries must incorporate English words into their URLS, which would be the equivalent of U.S. Internet users having to use Arabic or Chinese characters every time they use or register a website address.
"ICANN has now moved forward with a program to introduce further competition and choice in the top-level domain markets," he said. "Today's board announcement came after a long process of consultation among ICANN and the Internet community, in cooperation with the business communities, technical communities, intellectual property communities and governments."
If ICANN's five-tier study pans out on the viability of creating suffixes in other languages, the official green light could come as early as Dec. 31, 2004 and new domain names could be in use by 2005.
The schedule will include a full assessment of technical standards to support multilingual TLDs; an assessment of the introduction of competition into the TLD market and other similar markets; a review and report on intellectual property issues involved in the introduction of a new TLD; and reports regarding technical stability issues related to the introduction of new TLDs, including contingency planning to ensure continuity of registry services.
According to ICANN, there are 258 domain suffixes on the Internet, most of them designated for specific countries such as ".fr" for France and ".us" for the United States. The implementation of the ".eu" suffix for the European Union is also in the works, according to ICANN.
For the first time in years, ICANN approved seven sponsored TLD (sTLD) domain names in 2000, including three that specifically target industries such as aviation, museums, and the business community.
ICANN announced plans this week to release another round of sTLD addresses by 2004 that will serve even more sponsored industries. Those sTLD names could possibly include the popular and long-awaited ".sex" domain name that ICM Registries has been pushing for over the past six years.
"ICANN is working hard to listen and be responsive to the Internet community's needs and they have asked for us to address the issues regarding new sTLDs" Twomey continued.