Multilingual domain names under fire

Several of the world's largest domain name registrars will start selling multilingual domain names Thursday night, despite a recommendation from the Internet Society that this initiative be delayed because it will harm the stability of the internet's Domain Name System.

          Several of the world's largest domain name registrars will start selling multilingual domain names today, despite a recommendation from the Internet Society that this initiative be delayed because it will harm the stability of the internet's Domain Name System.

          VeriSign Global Registry Services, the central registry for all names in the .com, .net and .org domains, will start accepting domain names in Chinese, Japanese and Korean at 1pm (NZ time) today under its multilingual testbed. VeriSign has qualified 22 registrars including Network Solutions, and to sell the names.

          Indeed, has already pre-registered thousands of multilingual names, primarily from multinational corporations looking to retain their company and product names in Asian languages.'s customers include Motorola, IBM and Proctor & Gamble.

          "We've seen a huge response from companies that have defined brands all over the world," says spokesman Shonna Koegan.

          "We're being inundated with questions about multilingual names being available for .com," agrees Jeffrey Johnson, vice president of Network Solutions' country code and secondary market name service. "We haven't had multilingual technology on the internet. This is such a watershed event."

          VeriSign officials said they will move forward with the multilingual testbed despite concerns from the Internet Society, which oversees both the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

          "The testbed absolutely will not be delayed," says VeriSign spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy. "The true promise of the internet will not arrive until we can serve the 90% of the world's population that doesn't speak English as its primary language."

          The Internet Society issued a press release asking that the multilingual testbed be delayed until the IETF can develop a proposed standard for internationalised domain names.

          The Internet Society "believes the commercial testbed is premature under the technical standards of the internet,'' the press release states. It recommends that "before users of the internet establish claims of ownership of particular domain names, it is now time for a hiatus in the commercial deployment of internationalized character sets in the operational DNS."

          David Maher, vice president for public policy at the Internet Society, admits that it is unusual for the group to issue such a strongly worded press release.

          "This is very significant," Maher says. "As the umbrella organization for the IETF and the IAB, the Internet Society represents a worldwide collection of the most respected engineers and technical professions on the internet...We think this will absolutely hurt the DNS and inevitably lead to conflicts as people claim to have the rights to certain names because of this testbed."

          The Internet Society wants the multilingual testbed to be delayed for several months until the IETF can develop a specification for handling internationalised domain names from the many technical proposals it has received. However, at a minimum, the group would like to see the participating registrars inform buyers that the domain names being registered are temporary and subject to adjustment when a standard is approved.

          "Real problems come from the fact that there are conflicting proposals for how internationalised domain names should be handled," Maher explains.

          "This automatically ensures there will be serious problems. It's like different companies selling telephone numbers or seats on the same flight."

          VeriSign officials discounted the Internet Society's concerns and said that the testbed will not harm the stability of the DNS.

          The Internet Society's concerns "come as a bit of a surprise because VeriSign Global Registry Services has worked very closely with the IETF, the IAB and the [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] to ensure that we have a proper balance between the business interests and the technical interests," O'Shaughnessy adds.

          VeriSign's multilingual testbed will allow companies to register names in non-English character sets in the .com, .net and .org domains. Initially, the testbed will support Japanese, Korean, traditional and simplified Chinese characters. In the near future, VeriSign also will support other languages including Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.

          VeriSign is using underlying technology from International to translate the Japanese, Chinese and Korean characters into ASCII for inclusion in the DNS. VeriSign plans to start taking registrations for foreign character domain names on Thursday evening, but it has not announced when it will start resolving requests for multilingual domain names for email and web surfing.

          VeriSign says the testbed will result in real domain name registrations but admits that the external representation of the names may change as an IETF standard emerges. On its website, VeriSign says it will "ensure current and future compliance with evolving internationalized domain name standards developed within the IETF and adherence to the IAB principle of a single DNS root."

          Prices for multilingual domain names have not yet been released.

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