The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) North America Global Stakeholder Engagement team organized a session on digital inclusion during the ICANN77 policy meeting in Washington, D.C., last month. The discussion focused on why it is important to enable Internet users around the world to access resources and to communicate effectively online. Participation in this session was high, with more than 100 people joining either in person or virtually.
Panelists at the session suggested potential policymaking interventions and increased participation of governments and the private sector in digital inclusion issues. While expansion of the Domain Name System (DNS) through the next round of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will help create a path for more meaningful access, more can be done to support users and communities access the Internet in their native languages.
Ram Mohan, Chief Strategy Officer for Identity Digital, provided a powerful example of a family member who was not able to use a personal email address on the website of a large corporation because it ends with the .info top-level domain name. Ram urged organizations to consider their inclusion practices online as much as they do in the physical world. "To focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion is wonderful, but where are you digitally?" he asked. In order to promote Universal Acceptance (UA), all actors developing applications and operating services online need to ensure that their systems are updated to support more scripts in domain names and email addresses.
Many Internet end users are impacted by the failure of systems to recognize certain top-level domains or Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). For example, if an Internet user has an email address written fully in Chinese script, only about 11 percent of websites today can process them. "Basically, that's making international domain names 'second-class citizens' in the digital world because almost 90 percent of systems are not able to support multilingual email addresses," said Edmon Chung, ICANN Board Member.
Digital barriers related to UA and IDNs have real-world ramifications. Today, there are more than 5.3 billion users on the Internet (over 60 percent of the world's population), with the potential to expand to billions more. However, many of the current users and most of the next billion coming online are part of communities that speak and write in languages other than English. In this context, UA is essential for the continued expansion of the Internet. True local and global meaningful access to the Internet can only be accomplished when all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems work with all valid domain names and email addresses through UA.
Dr. Bhanu Neupane, Adviser, Open Solutions and ICT and Sciences, UNESCO, explained the efforts of the United Nations in ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their linguistic background, can access information and participate in decision-making processes. There are about 486 million indigenous people in the world, and multilingualism is one of the core values of the United Nations, he said.
Improving digital access to information on the Internet brings many remarkable benefits to the global community. Everyone, regardless of their background, culture, language, or location, should be able to make full use of the Internet. Please join in our efforts to expand UA readiness in the North America region.
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