The digital Rosetta Stone: Making the internet accessible to all | Sunday Observer

The digital Rosetta Stone: Making the internet accessible to all

25 December, 2022

Internet use in Sri Lanka has increased exponentially in the past decade thanks to smartphones and various advances in IT. Perhaps you are reading this article on our E-paper, which is one example of how much internet is part of our lives. You wake up, reach for your phone and switch on data and start your day with your WhatsApp messages, work emails and Facebook notifications. In Sri Lanka however, there is one small drawback. Despite the vast number of websites hosting content and offering services in native languages, access to the internet itself is limited due to Latin character-based domain names and hyperlinks being the default.

Now thanks to coordinated efforts by local and global partners, Sri Lankans will have much more access to the internet via Sinhala and Tamil.

On the fifth of December 2022, Theekshana, a not-for-profit company set up by the permanent staff of the University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC), launched jointly with the LK Domain Registry, Universal Acceptance (UA) Local Initiative Project in Sri Lanka officially. The project is supported by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN through the community-based Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG).

ICANN is the global body that coordinates and supports Internet’s unique identifiers across the world.ICANN is also involved in the policy development process for Internet Names and Numbers in a bottom-up, consensus-driven, multistakeholder model.

It is estimated that 5 billion people (70% of the Total World Population) use the Internet daily and 1.5 billion will join the Internet in the future using Non-Latin Scripts. ICANN has defined Universal Acceptance (UA) as a term that represents the principle that every Top Level Domain (TLD) should function within software applications irrespective of the script, how long the domain name is (number of characters) or how new it is.  

In providing the necessary Universal Acceptance (UA) tools and resources, including an email platform in Sinhala, this UA Local Initiative project is expected to increase awareness of UA, promote the use of Sinhala and Tamil email addresses in Sri Lanka and create a financially viable path to continue supporting UA and the use of Sinhala and Tamil country code top level domains (ccTLDs). More broadly, this project is a potential case study that demonstrates how governments at all levels can embrace UA. When people can navigate and communicate on the Internet using their chosen domain name and email address that best aligns with their interests, business, culture, language and script, governments are better able to communicate and provide critical services, as well as uphold local cultural traditions through language.

Sri Lanka has two delegated Internationalized Domain Names, Dot Lanka and Dot Illangai. Universal Acceptance Local Initiative project will encourage those two domain names to be used internationally and locally and to promote EMAIL IDs in Sinhala and Tamil. Currently, a few websites run using the above two domain names. 

UASG has selected Sri Lanka as its fifth Universal Acceptance project in the world. A newly formed Steering Group for the Local Initiative leads the project with the help of the LK Domain Registry and the Local Language Working Group of ICTA. Theekshana R & D, which runs the Local Language Help Centre with funding from the LK Domain Registry, acts as the implementing agency. 

Theekshana, ICANN, and LK Domain Registry carried out the first two-day workshop of the project successfully on the 28th and 29th of November 2022. Mr. Champika Wijayatunga, Technical Engagement Manager for Asia Pacific region at ICANN, carried out the first workshop with Mr. Harsha Wijayawardhana, COO/CTO Theekshana R & D. On the fifth of December, the Project partners had a high-level policy-making meeting where Prof. Gihan Dias, LK Domain Registrar, Dr.Ruvan Weerasinghe, Senior Lecturer, and an NLP expert and one of the pioneers of the Internet and Local Language in Sri Lanka also participated at the meeting and the Press Conference. 

The mission of ICANN is to help ensure a stable, secure, and unified global Internet. Universal Acceptance (UA) is part of ICANN’s five-year strategic plan.