On November 16, 2009, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced the launch of the Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) Fast Track Process. The introduction of IDNs is a major step forward in providing worldwide access to the Internet for non-English speakers. However, IDNs will impact the Internet strategy and presence for all multinational businesses. Some businesses may wish to apply for an IDN in an appropriate ccTLD, while others may need to police a particular ccTLD for potential infringement.

A TLD can be thought of as providing a high-level or general identifier to an Internet address. Typically, the TLD follows the last dot (.) on a domain name, such as .com, .edu, or .gov. Currently, a ccTLD is a two-letter country or territory identifier, such as .uk (United Kingdom), .jp (Japan), or .de (Germany). The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), through its contract with ICANN, transfers administration and control of the individual ccTLDs to a trustee, often a country government organization or local university (a listing of all operators can be found at http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/). The trustees are then responsible for determining the policies of the ccTLD, such as who may register a domain name with the ccTLD. For example, some domain names using ccTLDs can be obtained only by those local to the country; others, such as Djibouti (.dj) and Tuvalu (.tv), have sold domain names because of the commercial value associated with their unique ccTLD.

ICANN describes an IDN as any domain name that includes characters other than the letters of the basic Latin alphabet. For example, IDNs can include languages with accents, cedillas and ogoneks (e.g., French, Turkish, Kurdish, Polish, Navajo, etc.) as well as non-Latin-based languages such as Chinese or Arabic. An IDN provides enhanced accessibility to the Internet for non-Latin speakers. Usage of non-ASCII characters in domain names has been available at least since July 2003 for the .jp domain.

On December 10, 2009, the trustee of the .eu domain extension will accept IDN registrations. All 23 official European languages will be offered, although not every character will be supported; for example, the German Eszett (ß) is not supported. Although non-ASCII languages are supported, the .eu extension is not an IDN ccTLD, as the .eu is still ASCII based and .eu domains would have the format Venable[in Cyrillic].eu, for example. An IDN ccTLD, on the other hand, is a TLD that uses characters from a country or territory’s official language. This would enable a domain name in all non-ASCII characters, for example, Venable[in Cyrillic].CountryCode[in Cyrillic] . Simply put, it would allow someone with a Chinese keyboard, for instance, to enter the entire IDN in Chinese. Currently, no IDN ccTLDs have been officially approved by ICANN.

The first part of the IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process for real IDNs (where both sides of the dot (.) are in non-ASCII) requires a request from a local government or government-affiliated organization to ICANN. Prior to submission of a request, ICANN recommends getting community consensus on which IDN ccTLD to apply for and deciding who will operate the IDN ccTLD and how they will operate, if approved. A fee of $26,000 is expected but not mandatory. Once a request is submitted, ICANN will evaluate the string for both linguistic and technical criteria. Once approved, the ccTLDs are expected to come online during 2010.

The IDN ccTLD proposal has been well received. In fact, the Russian registry is accepting sunrise Cyrillic domain name applications for .??, which Russia anticipates will be accepted by ICANN as the Russian country code.