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Multilingual Internet must for bringing on board next 1 billion users

The next one billion Internet users are likely to come from countries that speak and write in languages other than English, putting in focus the need to develop a more inclusive and multilingual online space for individuals and organisations, experts said.

Two global organisations – The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) – have been working to make the Internet more unified that supports a broad range of languages and scripts, they said.

The first major step of this objective is the Universal Acceptance of Internet (commonly referred to as ‘UA’).

“It is a technical requirement that ensures all valid domain names and e-mail addresses can be used by all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems,” UA Ambassador Sushanta Sinha told PTI.

ICANN and UASG are observing the Universal Acceptance Day on March 28, seeking participation from the global Internet community. Nearly 50 UA Day events are expected to be held in more than 40 different countries, Sinha, a top IT professional who is also a patron of the Computer Society of India, said.

A similar event is scheduled in Kolkata on March 21, where stakeholders, including government officials, will discuss and deliberate on a multilingual Internet, he said.

“There are currently around five billion Internet users, and at least one billion more are expected to come online. Most of these potential new users live in countries that do not speak and write in English.

“Achieving UA ensures everybody has the ability to experience the full social and economic power of the Internet using their chosen domain name and email address, which best aligns with their interests, business, culture, language, and script,” Sinha said.

He explained that for instance when universalisation is achieved, “you want to go to, you need not type the domain name in the Latin script, but can type it in the Bengali script and can go the same website.”

According to data, only about a third of the world population uses the Latin alphabet, while there are billions of other people who prefer to read and write in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Devanagari and other scripts, he said.

This means so many people around the world are bereft of experiencing the full benefits of the Internet, simply because they are unable to use a domain name or email address in their language and script of choice, said Sinha.

Sinha said the multilingual nature of Internet can open up a host of possibilites apart from just access to the web, like boosting digital security by way of enhancing spam filters and email tracing, simplifying government services in rural areas and promoting language and culture.

Elaborating on the purpose of the UA Day, ICANN interim president and CEO Sally Costerton said: “It will create awareness of UA and provide the tools needed to ensure that all Internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems work with all valid domain names and email addresses.”

“UA Day has been met with enthusiasm from multi-stakeholders worldwide,” said UASG Chair Ajay Data.

Explaining the immediate need for UA, Sinha said a couple of years back, the ‘.bharat’ domain was available in 22 Indian languages, but not all online portals are primed for the opening of a user account with a related email address.

“Many systems do not recognise or appropriately process new domain names and e-mail addresses. The challenge is not only limited to the creation of content in multiple languages, but to accept, validate, store, process and display it through any platform, application or device,” he added. PTI

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