The internet must support the large number of languages in the world at all levels, including content, hardware, software and internationalised domain names if it is to reach the next billion people, according to speakers at an Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Hyderabad, India.
"When we talk about internet for all, we have to go beyond the people who speak English," said Manal Ismail, vice chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), on Wednesday.
Besides local content and software, search engines must also support multiple languages, as search is often the way people access the web, she added.
Some participants however raised doubts whether there is a significantly large demand for using the internet in local languages.
The demand for content and tools in local languages is not very high in India, said Ajit Balakrishnan, chairman and CEO of Rediff.com, an Indian portal. Higher education in India is mainly in English which has also emerged as an "aspirational " language after the boom in business process outsourcing (BPO) in India, he added.
The IGF should focus on the spoken internet, on speech-to-text languages, because that is the future of the internet, he added.
The sessions of the IGF meet, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday, are being web cast live.
In a session on access, Kiran Karnik, member of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Indian Prime Minister, said that connectivity, affordability, and utility are key to taking the Internet to the next one billion people.
Karnik, who was formerly president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom) in India, suggested that policy makers and businesses should consider offering connectivity free, while getting it paid for from other sources of revenue in a similar manner to the way Google offers search free to users.
Cheaper internet bandwidth will also come through greater competition among service providers, according to some speakers at the meeting.
Competition drives down costs, gives customers choice, and improves access in various markets including developing countries, said Peter Hellmonds, head of corporate social responsibility at Nokia Siemens Networks.
Access is not only about rolling out networks, but creating the awareness of the technology and provide incentives for people to get on the Internet, he said. Applications that address the needs of various sections of the populations, including rural areas have to be also available, he added.