ICANN’s mission is to maintain a stable, secure and interoperable Internet, with a narrow scope of coordinating the Internet’s unique identifiers. The work we do in the logical layer of the Internet has socioeconomic benefits for the world.
I am proud to be a part of ICANN’s mission. Coming from a developing region – the Asia Pacific – this work is even more meaningful for me.
It is a given that the Internet has changed our lives. But how will our work help bring the next billion people online? And how will the Internet give people the means to reduce poverty, fight inequality and tackle global issues such as climate change?
G77 Meeting and Sustainable Development Goals
I spoke about these topics at the recent G77 Meeting of Experts on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Sustainable Development for South-South Cooperation, held in Bangkok, Thailand, from 1–2 March. Thailand is currently the chair of the G77, and I had the honor of being invited by one of the meeting’s cohosts, the Electronic Transactions Development Agency (ETDA) of Thailand.
The theme of this meeting was using ICT to achieve sustainable development goals. To give you some background, in September 2015, an historic UN Summit explored ways to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. The result was the adoption of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
These goals have specific targets over the next 15 years. To meet these goals, we all need to do our part – governments, the private sector, civil society, you and me.
So what did I share with more than 100 delegates from the G77 countries?
Barriers that Hold Us Back
The Boston Consulting Group’s eFriction report highlights four categories of barriers (or “eFriction”) that prevent people from realizing the full benefits of the Internet. These four areas are: infrastructure, individual, industry and information.
The report recommends that policymakers take steps to reduce eFriction in their countries.
The four categories of eFriction are interrelated, and require holistic solutions. Residents of a country may have mobile Internet access (infrastructure), but local small- and medium-sized enterprises can do business online only when:
- The workforce is ICT-literate (industry).
- People trust online payments or eGovernment services (individual).
- Enough local content exists to draw people online (information).
Language as an Additional Barrier
I would add that language is another contributing factor to eFriction. Language cuts across all categories. If I can’t find and use content in my own language, then I am not enjoying the full benefits of the Internet.
Language is even more important when we realize that the next billion people coming online will not be native English speakers. They may not speak English at all. As my own father (who doesn’t speak English well) very aptly said, “The Internet is a very good tool for information, but you need to know how to spell.”
As we think about providing access to the Internet and using it to achieve sustainable development goals, we have to remove language barriers.
Expanding Language Support
At ICANN, the Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) program allows for local scripts to be used in top-level domains (TLDs). When fully implemented, entire communities will come online using domain names in local scripts. Communities, especially from developing countries will need to work together to realize this vision.
This work is bearing fruit:
- Both country code TLDs (ccTLDs) and generic TLDs (gTLDs) have been delegated.
- A community-driven, transparent and open mechanism is aiding this process. (Read about Label Generation Rules for the Root Zone – introduction, collaboration required, challenges faced and current progress).
- Linguists, policymakers and technical experts (many from developing countries) are establishing the rules to form valid top-level domains and their variant labels in a particular script or writing system.
In Asia, work is ongoing for scripts such as Thai, Khmer and Lao. Communities will also need to work across scripts, and iron out cross-script issues such as the use of Han characters across the Japanese, Korean and Chinese scripts.
I am excited that ICANN is helping to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals. The technical work done at ICANN, with the various communities around the world, is helping to eliminate language barriers on the Internet.
I would like to thank the ETDA of Thailand (Thailand’s representative to ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee) for this opportunity. I hope to continue contributing to the G77 dialogue.