The .eu TLD (top-level domain name) for Web sites allows non-ASCII characters in its Web addresses, after it opened up the TLD to addresses written in Cyrillic and Greek letters, the European Commission said Friday.
Currently, all TLDs, including .com, .org and the like have to be written in ASCII characters, which include the Roman alphabet and numerals.
However, three European Union countries don't use the Roman alphabet: Greece and Cyprus use modern Greek script while Bulgaria shares the Cyrillic alphabet with the non-E.U. country Russia.
It is "only natural that the domain names chosen by Europeans be permitted to be as diverse as Europe itself," Commissioner for the Information Society Viviane Reding said in a statement, announcing the decision to expand .eu beyond ASCII characters.
Some E.U. languages such as Czech, Polish and Lithuanian have the odd letter in their alphabets that steps beyond the ASCII character list. Even more use accents attached to Roman letters -- those include French, Spanish and Danish. Users of these languages will also be able to write TLDs using their full alphabets from now on, the Commission said in a statement.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is also looking into stretching other TLDs so they can use non-ASCII characters.
No one was immediately available at ICANN to say when these internationalized domain names will become available but ICANN is understood to be working on expanding the choice of characters to include Chinese, Japanese and Arabic characters.
The number of .eu Web sites has reached just over 3 million, the Commission said. But the rate at which people and firms have been signing up for an .eu Web address has slowed after an initial rush to register Web sites in 2006, the TLD's first year in existence.
The number of new .eu Web sites last year and in 2007 was around 300,000 each year, while in 2006, 2.5 million .eu TLDs were registered.
The .eu TLD is now the ninth most-used top-level domain name in the world, ahead of .biz but still way behind TLDs such as .com, .ge (Germany), .net, .org and .nl (Holland). Germany has registered the biggest number of .eu Web site addresses with just under 1 million. Next comes the Netherlands with 415,000, followed by the U.K. with around 378,000.
The management of .eu is entrusted to EURid , an independent nonprofit organization.