A number of country code TLDs in the Arab States have changed management and strategy in recent years, introducing more liberal registration policies, accreditation of registrars, greater automation and lower retail prices. Examples include Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
The United Arab Emirates registry manager, aeDA, explains that changes include a sustained outreach program, and regular contact with registrars to foster improvements in service quality.
The results have been impressive. The .ae ASCII TLD has grown to more than 110 000 registrations (a growth rate of 10% since September 2012), making it one of the largest TLDs in the region. Its experiences may be influencing the strategic direction of others – for example, the Omani TLD manager is currently considering a liberalisation strategy.
The Saudi registry has been working on universal acceptance issues related to IDNs, including IDN email. It has developed an extensive suite of tests which highlight the difficulties in using Arabic script domain names across browsers, applications, and email. It has also developed an email system which sends and receives fully Arabicised emails within a closed system (ie both sender and receiver have to be on the same system).
The Islamic Republic of Iran is preparing to launch its IDN ccTLD, ایران .The application was made to ICANN in 2009 as part of the IDN ccTLD Fast Track process. Although it successfully completed evaluation in 2010, obtaining the necessary government approvals delayed the implementation process until late 2013. The ایران .domain was launched in May / June 2014. The registry, IRNIC, has offered IDNs under .ir since 2006. When the ایران .TLD completed its evaluation stage in 2010, IRNIC stopped accepting new registrations of IDNs under .ir. At that point there were 6 000 IDNs, the highest number achieved in the region, despite the inherent difficulties in using domain names which combine right-to-left script with a left-to-right TLD (hybrid IDNs).
Qatar continues to report low uptake of IDNs. Despite excellent broadband penetration, a highly literate population and liberal ccTLD policies, Qatar has a high proportion of immigrant workers (85%), making English a popular language. The Qatar registry has also been active in research and development, and in advocacy for the IDN. It has developed and launched a mobile app for registering both .qa and قطر domains.
##Task force on Arabic Script Domain Names The Task Force on Arabic Script Internationalised Domain Names is an initiative of the Middle East Strategy Working Group which focuses on technical issues and solutions related to Arabic script IDNs to promote their definition, secure deployment and ease of use for the community. ICANN has committed to fund and coordinate the work of the Task Force.
The Task Force currently consists of 26 members from 15 countries covering more than 10 languages of the Arabic Script. 20 members are new faces to Arabic Script IDNs. Two members of the group are linguistic experts in African Arabic Script languages. The Task Force’s work includes:
developing rules for generating Arabic Script labels, both at the top level and second levels rules for recording user contact details for Arabic script domain names (these are currently required to be in Latin script), and issues relating to universal acceptance, character variants, associated software, security and training. As with all work coordinated through ICANN, teleconference calls recordings and email archives can be found online. The Task Force is expected to conclude its work by the end of 2014. The work of the Task Force is an essential building block in the path to universal resolution of Arabic Script domain names. Arabic script not only represents characters differently according to their position in a word, it also has zero-width-joiners, and many character variants. Unless these are handled in a coordinated fashion across different countries, Arabic script domain names will not work predictably across country borders. The work of the Task Force is likely also to influence the handling of Arabic script characters at the second level (usually the purview of individual domain registries), as many of the region’s ccTLD managers are involved with the project.
Emily Taylor is the CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is the Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and co-founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Oxford Information Labs.
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