Internet 4.0: New Era of Internet

Internet 4.0 enables billions of people by removing linguistic barriers and supporting diversity across globe

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A new wave is creating a ripple effect in the internet world that breaks all language barriers across the globe. The internet reach and penetration across countries started growing exponentially. It is also true that the growth of the internet in non-English speaking countries is phenomenal, but the content on the internet is still predominantly available in English followed by Chinese.

We are now witnessing a transformation which demolishes the dominance of English in terms of access and content as well. Innovations and "Universal Acceptance" efforts have prompted not only the development of content in regional or local languages but adoption of Domain Names and email addresses in local languages too.

In the Indian Context

For example, India has more than 50 per cent of the 900+ TV channels that broadcast in regional languages; Hindi language newspapers occupy larger production and readership in comparison with English. There was a need to push internet content in Indian languages. We know it well that the internet 1.0 was the one without Web and if we talk about the 2.0 it provided the much-needed network connectivity of content. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Internet 3.0 enabled us access to the web through mobile and portable devices.

Now we have taken a leap forward with the internet 4.0 which breaks the language barrier in both areas - content and access. The revolutionary transformation in the internet space which we prefer to refer as the Internet 4.0 lays a strong foundation for the development of content and applications every diversity including linguistic of an internet population of the world.

Transforming the Methodology

The transformation is a result of efforts being made at the global level. First of all, let us understand the functioning and impact of domain names. The domain names provide an important link between users and content on the internet. When we type a domain name to access the web site to a free email address, we present the domain names interspersed by "dots" to the Domain Name System (DNS) that resolves them into machine-readable Internet Protocol (IP) translating into addresses for access.

However, the label to the right of the dot (also called as the Top Level Domain, TLD) in any domain name is of utmost importance as this is administered and governed by the multi-stakeholder community model of internet governance under the aegis of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The TLDs are registered in the "root zone" of the internet with corresponding Label Generation Rules (LGRs) for the stable functioning of the domain name system.

The DNS started with 6 TLDs in the 1985 that consisted of just 3 Latin characters; subsequently, country code TLDs were made available (such as ".in' for India). Subsequently, generic TLDs that can have longer labels such as ".cookingchannel' and ".travelersinsurance' with certain restrictions were approved under the new gTLD programme of ICANN in 2001 and new gTLD IDN (Internationalized Domain Name) was delegated in 2007.

As IDN TLDs came into existence in 2007, the work on Email address Internationalization (EAI) started happening. With these linguistic barriers on internet and email domain also broke.

While these developments were taking place, software and application developers, network engineers, and domain name registrars had to re-engineer their existing programmes to recognise the shift from legacy 2-3 character TLDs to lengthy TLDs and IDNs. This, referred to as "Universal Acceptance (UA)" principle, enables any Domain name and email address to function within all applications regardless of the script, number of characters, or how new it is.

Government Initiative

One of the ways ICANN is trying to make the use of the internet and its content accessible, especially among non-English speaking internet users, is through the introduction of Internationalised Domain Names (IDN). Adoption of Unicode standard came as a solution and it provides a unique number for every character, no matter what platform, device, application or language. Realising the importance of Indian language specific TLD, the government of India obtained (.Bharat) ccTLD in Devanagari script in 2011, which was introduced to the public for domain registration in August 2014. Variations of. Bharat TLD is now available in 15 scripts including Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Urdu and Gurmukhi.

As per the IDN World Report 2018, where IDNs are in use, the language of web content is more diverse than it is with traditional ASCII domains. IDNs help to enhance the linguistic diversity in cyberspace and seem to be accurate predictors of the language of the web content. The report also points out that Han (associated with the Chinese language), Latin, and Cyrillic scripts represent nearly 90% of all registered IDNs. Major world scripts such as Arabic and Devanagari, which support some of the world's top 10 most spoken languages, are yet to be substantially represented in IDN.

Now there was a need to make Indian language specific TLDs possible and for this purpose, the Neo-Brahmi Script Generation Panel (NBGP) was formed in 2015. The NBGP started working on to develop Root Zone LGR for Bengali, Devanagari, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Tamil and Telugu scripts. The LGR work is completed by NBGP Panel and currently, these are open for public comment through ICANN. Once implemented in the root zone, domain names in some of the Indian languages can be registered to address the accessibility for the non-English internet users in India.

Apart from accessing web content, domain names are also used for email addresses and a host of other Internet applications. Therefore, Universal Acceptance needs those software applications which are updated to accept the new gTLDs, IDNs and EAI. Once implemented in full, end users can use applications with the new domain names without compromising on functionality and performance. In a recent study by Analysis Mason, it is estimated that UA would provide an economic benefit of close to $10 billion.

Promoting Universal Acceptance has become the cornerstone on the Internet 4.0. The ICANN formed the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) which is spreading awareness of the ramifications of new gTLDs and IDNs amongst all stakeholders. All leading players in IT space have started supporting email address internationalisation (i.e, email address for IDN domain), thus providing UA-ready messaging services.

Going forward, we need to educate software developers, engineers, domain name registrars and registries on the importance of UA in the context of new gTLDs, IDNs and EAI for fully leveraging the benefits of INTERNET 4.0 and addressing the large customer base which is not tapped as of now.