- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) The master keeper of dot-com names began accepting non-English characters last night as the next step in making the World Wide Web truly global.

The move comes over the objections of some Internet engineers who fear the move is premature and could lead to a fouling of their works and a segregation of Web sites.

VeriSign Global Registry Services, the company in charge of Internet domain names ending in .com, .net and .org, initially will accept Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters for those suffixes. Arabic and other languages could follow.

Web addresses now are limited to the 26 letters of the English alphabet, 10 numerals and a hyphen 37 characters total. The addition of Asian character sets brings the total to 40,282 and could boost Internet use abroad.

"The domain name is kind of the front door with the welcome sign on it," said James Woods, product manager at Tucows Inc. "With this welcome sign being in their own language, people will want to step through that door."

Web surfers whose keyboards are set for English characters will need to modify their computers' settings adding character sets for other languages to input non-English Internet addresses.

Many computers sold abroad are already set up to be able to create characters in those languages.

Tucows, Register.com and 22 other companies were authorized to begin taking orders by phone or on the Web last night. Those names would be submitted to VeriSign's database.

Richard Forman, chief executive at Register.com, said an Asian company might want a site in a native language, while U.S. businesses might want one in each language in which they do business.

Sites will not be able to use the new names for at least another month, and even then the program is officially a test. VeriSign, which bought domain-name registrar Network Solutions of Herndon, Va., reserves the right to make changes or cancel registrations that are incompatible with future standards.

Critics cautioned that because the Internet still lacks standards for non-English characters, efforts like VeriSign's are premature.

Computers that help users find Web sites were programmed for English, and the engineers who try to keep order on the Net say many of those machines will not understand new languages without software upgrades. They say tens of thousands of such machines, known as domain-name servers, need to be updated.

Until that happens, Web surfers could be blocked from many sites, said Don Heath, president of the nonprofit Internet Society. The international task force crafting standards is not expected to reach agreement until at least next year.

Fred Baker, chairman of the Internet Engineering Task Force, agrees with an eventual need for foreign names, but he said companies ought to wait.

"Getting this work done right is more important than getting it done quickly," he said.

The expansion of Web addresses could prompt a new round of hoarding, as speculators seek Chinese, Japanese and Korean equivalents of names like business.com, which sold last year for $7.5 million.

A workshop will be held in Marina del Rey, Calif., next week in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees Net naming policies. Though ICANN officials earlier expressed concerns about proceeding without standards, the organization officially is taking a wait-and-see approach.

Supporters, particularly registration companies that stand to collect fees, insist they cannot wait for standards.

"There's a whole world out there that has really not been able to use the Web," said Doug Wolford, general manager of Network Solutions, the registration arm of VeriSign. "Hundreds of millions of people have to use English to find their native language Web site. It's an absurdity, an artifact of history long outgrown."

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