National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), a non-for-profit company under the aegis of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), successfully organised a two-day event on March 27 and 28, 2023, on Universal Acceptance Day to drive collaborative efforts for an inclusive and multilingual internet in India.

Elaborating on the importance of universal acceptance, Bhuvnesh Kumar, IAS, additional secretary, MeitY, said, “India is home to more than 18,000 dialects. As we move from one city to another, pronunciation and ways of speaking change completely. The country has the most internet users but it must be noted that language barriers also make it a base of the largest numbers of non-users who do not speak English. It is very important that we not just provide internet services but also create emails and websites in native languages. Providing a multilingual internet user interface is crucial for bridging the current digital divide. Through universal acceptance, we can connect with non-internet users and promote digital inclusion across the country and the world.”

Various experts who engaged in thought-provoking sessions during the event noted that the next 1 billion internet users are likely to come from non-English speaking countries, heightening the need towards achieving a multilingual internet to make it accessible for all. Additionally, adoption of universal acceptance in India can add another 500 million broadband users which can add value to the digital economy, promote startup ecosystems and generate employment opportunities in the country.

Addressing a session during the event, Tripti Sinha, board member, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), said,” The internet is a powerful tool for equalising access to information, but its full potential cannot be realised until it becomes multilingual. It is also important to include multiple genders in this initiative.”

Meanwhile, in her address during a session, Sally Costerton, interim president and CEO, ICANN, said “The Indian government can lead the way in promoting multilingual internet systems, similar to their efforts in the financial sector with unicode. This move will enable more people to access the internet in their native languages, making it easier for them to communicate and access information. It is also important to have top-level domain names in local languages and scripts and ensure that the multilingual systems are safe and secure to use.”

India, which is fast-turning into a digital economy, has been chosen as the flag bearer this year to promote and promulgate universal acceptance for digital inclusion. The event was a serious effort to initiate thought-provoking, meaningful and result-oriented dialogues to raise awareness, break the language barriers and make the internet accessible to a larger population and bring every citizen in the ambit of economic progress.

Dr Ajay Data, chair, Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG), said, ” I am very thankful of NIXI, MeitY and ICANN to support and make Universal Acceptance Day a reality in 42 countries. Universal acceptance is a solution to multilingual issues. It ensures that all valid domain names and email addresses can be used equally by all internet-enabled applications, devices, and systems, regardless of script, language, or character length. This is a significant step towards creating a more inclusive internet that caters to the needs of all users.”

Speaking at the inaugural panel of global Universal Acceptance Day, Dr Subi Chaturvedi, global senior vice president and chief corporate affairs and public policy officer, InMobi, said, “This is an important moment in Indian history, because we want to lead conversations on universal acceptance. India is the perfect example of diversity and I cannot think of a better nation to lead the dialogue on acceptance, inclusivity and bridging the digital divide. Internet needs to be made inclusive to enable women to get online, use digital tools and services, and contribute to the global economy. Universal acceptance is the first step towards a safe, secure and accessible Internet. Universal acceptance is going to be about bringing the next billion users online and there will be three things that will be essential in bring and then keeping them online: acesss to devices and data at affordable rates, local language content, and capacity building through digital and cyber literacy.”

The country is home to the most internet users in the world however, it also houses a large-base of non-users who do not speak English. Acknowledging the high importance and urgent need of inclusive internet, the event hosted policy and decision makers, government officials, thought-leaders, industry experts from India and across the globe who deliberated on building multilingual internet, including emails and websites in native languages to bridge digital divide, connect non-internet users and promote digital inclusion.

The first-of-its-kind initiative registered the participation of dignitaries including  Bhuvnesh Kumar- IAS, additional secretary, MeitY, Abhishek Singh- president and CEO, National e-Governance Division, MeitY, Edmon Chung, board director, ICANN, Ajay Data, chair, UASG, Tripti Sinha, board chair, ICANN, Sally Costerton, CEO, ICANN,  Jia-Rong Low, vice president and MD, APAC, ICANN, Anil Kumar Jain, CEO, NIXI, Asha Nangia, Scientist ‘G’, MeitY, T Santhosh, Scientist ‘E’, Internet Governance Division, MeitY, Nitin Wali, senior director, Stakeholder Engagement, ICANN, and others who shared their views with students, developers, researchers, content creators, participants and guests.

It hosted engaging sessions and workshops on relevant and important topics such as “Socio-economic aspects of universal acceptance and multilingual internet and its impact on public policy’, ‘Technology enablement for universal acceptance – challenges and mitigation’, ‘Introduction to universal acceptance,’ ‘Making your website universal acceptance ready: way forward’, ‘Universal acceptance work in India’, ‘Importance of universal acceptance for multi-cultural society in India,’ and others.

Universal acceptance means building a technical environment to allow computing devices, operating systems, browsers, social media or e-commerce to accept instructions in local language other than English and ensure valid domain names and email addresses, regardless of script, language or character length. India has set a target of becoming a $1 trillion digital economy soon and it is important for the country to widen the cover of digital inclusion with universal acceptance.

Achieving it can ensure every Indian has the ability to experience the full social and economic power of the internet by choosing domain name and email address in any language that best aligns with their interests, business, culture, language, and script.

Celebrated globally on March 28, this inaugural Universal Acceptance Day was organised by UASG and ICANN and it successfully engaged and mobilised top technical and language communities, companies, governments and DNS industry stakeholders to better understand the benefits of universal acceptance and how they can make their systems universal acceptance-ready. It was reported that more than 40 countries participated in celebrating first Global Universal Acceptance Day.