Other tech issues of our time
The biggest problem though is that the issue of "universal acceptance" is a combination of the Y2K bug and IPv6 rollout.
The Y2K bug existed because of an efficient coding decision made many years earlier (to just allow two-characters to represent the year). The same is true with email coding - it is designed to work only with Latin-script.
Likewise, while the technical community has been urging companies to upgrade to IPv6 for a decade, rollout remains slow in large part because there is no customer demand for it.
"When we first approach people about this problem, they say 'so what? Nobody is asking for it'," explained Chung. As a result non-English speakers will often have a back-up email address that they use for those systems that will not accept their main email address. But like IPv6, this approach is not sustainable.
Fortunately, coding around IDN email addresses is much simpler to achieve than a move to IPv6 infrastructure. The downside, as Chung explains is that "anyone can set up a mail server and set their own settings."
The group is developing a strategy to reach as many people responsible for code as possible and intends to lead by example by focusing first on the domain name industry itself - the systems that registries and registrars use to run the domain name system. ICANN's director of technical service Francisco Arias told attendees he was constantly talking to the industry about how to update their systems and will be holding a meeting in Washington DC next week in order to push the issue along.
The Domain Name Association (DNA) has also taken on the task with its executive director Kurt Pritz outlining plans to build a repository and resources to help sysadmins understand and fix the issues. He's concerned that the group will need to get in the C-suite to have a real impact: "We can sent people tickets but at best they'll get to the tech guys and they're unlikely to want to dig into the code unless there is some push from above."
Fixing the issue is not expensive, Pritz noted, but there will be an expense. And the return on investment is not immediately apparent. But the group is decided on two things: one, they need to provide the tools to make it easy for people to make the changes; and two, those changes are going to become extremely important in just a few years.