I attended today two wokshops that dealt with some more or less technical aspects of the Internet.
The first one was on gTLDs and IDNs. In the context of ICANN launching of new gTLDs (discussions are still held inside ICANN on a draft version of the Applicant Guidebook, known as DAG 4) and IDNs (IDNs already launched for Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirats, Russia, China, Taiwan), the aim of this workshop was to discuss the impact of these processes on developing countries, and how these countries can benefit from them.
What resulted from the discussion was that both new gTLDs and IDNs offer new opportunities for developing countries (mainly in terms of economic development), but that there are some obstacles these countries will face/are facing in the launching of IDNs and creation of gTLDs. The opportunities include issues like: new opportunities for business, through the possibility of launching new services, and, thus, making money out of them (source of profit), evolution of communities (from a social and cultural point a view also) - new gTLD representing fascinating tool for communities that are spread on non territorial basis, a new global and culturally inclusive Internet. IDN will reach a market that the current, Latin script has not reached, it will complement the current TLDs.
The obstacles to be faced by developing countries in these gTLDs and IDN process vary from technical ones (scarcity of technical resources, slow deployment of IPv6 and DNSSEC), to financial ones (the high acquisition costs for the registration of a new gTLD, need of financial resources for ongoing support) and to the lack of capacity building initiatives meant to prepare people for these processes. Also the vertical integration condition to be imposed for new gTLDs is to act as an obstacle for developing countries when/if they want to apply for new gTLDs.
Another important issue raised was that of multilingualism. While the top 10 languages mostly used on the Internet currently are: English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, German, Arabic, French, Russian, Korean, the future users will come from developing countries, and there is a need for new content and new languages to be present on the Internet. New gTLDs, combined with IDN, will enable populations of developing countries to use the web in their own language. Governments are expected to invest in infrastructure development and ICT services meant to encourage this.
With relation to ICANN activity on the launching of IDNs, Bertrand de la Chapelle made a very interesting observation: that the fast track process was not created only for those ready to have their IDN, but also for those that intend to have their IDN, but are not yet technically ready for that and have not yet not yet nominated a registry.
While most of the speakers expressed their hope that new actors from developing countries will emerge as major new gTLDs managers, there were also voices arguing that the impact of new gTLDs and IDN on developing countries will not be the expected one. It was also mentioned that, although governments and the civil society committed themselves to promote multilingualism on the Internet and to work on local content creation, the opportunity to produce local content often undermined in developing countries.