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Russia Begins Registering Domains in Cyrillic

November 2009 will take a special place in the history of the Russian Internet. It is the month when a Cyrillic domain zone was born  – .РФ (Russian Federation). Russia became the first country that allows top-level domains in non-Latin characters. The current Internet domains system will allow to use Cyrillic characters in a URL.

“The main thing about IDN ccTLD [internationalized domain names country code top-level domain] is that people who do not understand Latin (English) will be able to use their own language to access the Internet. The Web will become more familiar to people,” Veni Markovski, a representative for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) [ENG] in Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe, told the GVO.

The final decision to introduce Cyrillic URLs was made in October 30, 2009 when the ICANN finally approved the request to let different states use their national alphabets for domain names.  On November 16, the Russian Coordination Center for National Intern Domain (RU-Center) submitted an official request for creating a .РФ zone.  Although a limited registration of Cyrillic domains starts on November 25, the first requests were already submitted on November 11. The administration of the Russian president is very likely to become the first institution in the .РФ zone with a new URL “кремль.рф” (kremlin.rf). The local government of the Ekaterinburg region also submitted a request asking for “екатеринбург.рф” (ekaterinburg.rf) and “екбург.рф” (ekburg.rf) domains.

The main concern for the RU-Center during the registration is cybersquatting when people and companies buy popular domain names with the only purpose to resell them later for a higher price. But it looks like making a fortune with reselling .РФ URLs won’t be an easy task.

The first stage of registration starts on November 25, 2009 and will continue until March 25, 2010. Only government organizations and owners of officially recognized trademarks – there are at least eight thousand trademarks owners in Russia- will be allowed to apply for a .РФ  address during the first months.

The registration will be opened to the general public in April 2010. But not everyone will be able to afford a new domain. Buying a domain name on the first day of the open registration would cost 10 million rubles ($340,000). The price will decline to 100,000 rubles ($3,400) closer to June when the process won't be regulated by the RU-Center. At that point, everyone will be able to purchase a domain name at the price set by different commercial domain sellers.

The stream of applications to the  RU-Center started long before November 25. Several thousands of Russian companies and organizations submitted early requests. More than a half of those requests were already denied.

“Over a week, only 1,117 applications have been approved while over 1,500 have been declined,” Andrey Vorobyov, a PR manager at the RU-Center, said. “The applicants do not take the rules seriously and their domain names contain Cyrillic letters along with Latin characters. Some names do not even represent their trade marks.”

The RU-center does not allow Latin letters in new .РФ domains. New URLs also cannot contain offensive words and expressions. A special group of Russian linguists analyzes every application for any abuses of the language.

Some Russian experts see potential conflicts and issues at the earliest stages of the registration. Svetlana Vladimirova, a director of “Mediapartner” company, said that some trademark owners have almost identical names and that can lead to all sorts of problems  and confusions during the process.

Russia is the first but not the only country that will have top-level domains based on its own alphabet. The Egyptian Minister of communication Tarek Kamel said at the Sharm El Sheikh Internet Governance Forum [ENG] that Egypt would be the first to use Arabic letters in the state domains. The new URLs will contain “.masr” (Egypt) extension written in Arabic.

Applications for new national top level domains were also submitted to the ICANN by China, Bulgaria and few other countries. One can witness a chain reaction around the former Soviet Union with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine expressing their interest in Cyrillic domain names for their countries.

Most Russian experts consider .РФ domain great news of national importance and a special achievement for the country. The new zone will definitely provide new  and more effective ways to reach the Russian-language audience. It will also significantly increase the amount of Russian speakers using the World Wide Web. Some experts say that the age of Internet users in Russia will be significantly younger since the usage of Cyrillic in URLs will make it easier for children to go online.

The Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the creation of the Cyrillic zone an “important goal” of the Internet development in the country. Medvedev also underlined its symbolic importance for Russia. The authorities claim that it will speed up the process of creating an effective e-government system. The Russian Minister of Communications Igor Shegolev noted recently that the new domain zone would be used to create a government e-mail services making it easier for citizens to communicate with government officials.

But not everyone is optimistic. “No one needs an .РФ zone,” Vladimir Dolgiy-Rapoport, a CEO of Aroundme.ru, said in an interview for the Forbes magazine. “The net is international but the Cyrillic address can’t by typed in most of the countries.”

For better or for worse, the emergence of a .РФ zone also includes a strong political message. The global nature of the Internet in many cases threaten the sovereignty of state actors. In many cases, a commitment of people to a particular network that doesn’t have any affiliation with the state identity is stronger than their commitment to state framework. Until now, governments had difficulties defining state-affiliated spaces in the virtual word. In a way, the national alphabet domains create new borders in the virtual reality and support the state sovereignty.

Domains in different languages also raises some questions about net neutrality. In the near future, the access to some of content on the Internet will be limited to those who know and can type national alphabet characters into an address box of a Web browser. In other words, the new domains not only support the state sovereignty but can also increase the cyberspace fragmentation by drawing new virtual borders.

Veni Markovski believes that the new domain zone has nothing to do with the net neutrality. He claimes that it makes the Internet more accessible. “There is no relation between the new top level domains and the net neutrality issue, which is mainly an issue in the United States,” he said. “The IDN ccTLD – and note, we are talking here only about a country code TLD, not generic TLD – provide more access. If you are from a country that does not use Latin letter, you might never be able to understand what the Internet says… Think about it in a different way, what if the Internet was created in China, instead of in the U.S., and we all had to write the web addresses in Chinese? How many users would there be in E.U., or the U.S., or in Russia?”

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