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Red Light Gets Green Light: .XXX Domain Moves Toward Approval

By Erika Morphy
Jun 25, 2010 11:30 AM PT

After a decade of failed attempts, it looks as though the online adult entertainment industry will get its own top-level domain -- .XXX. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced the decision on Friday after an independent review countered its previous refusals.

Red Light Gets Green Light: .XXX Domain Moves Toward Approval

Exactly when the .XXX domain name will become a reality is still unclear. It could come about by the end of the year, or could take a year or slightly longer to be put into place, Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the ICANN Board, told TechNewsWorld. "There are many technical steps that have to be taken," starting with making sure that the proposal complies with ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee advise and requirements on the top-level domains. If there is a conflict, Thrush says, they will have to be resolved through mediation.

"Nobody at ICANN has any interest in delay, but there are a number of steps, including possibly consulting with the governments around the world," he said. "We are not obliged to follow their advice but we do have to explain our decisions."

Long Haul

Getting to this point has been a long slog for the proposal's proponents. It began in 2000 when the ICM Registry, a private company, proposed two new top-level domains: .KIDS and .XXX. They were both rejected. ICM then filed Reconsideration Requests with ICANN's Board. That too came to a dead end.

In 2004, ICM tried again, submitting a proposal for .XXX. ICANN's Independent Evaluation Panels reviewed the ICM application throughout much of that year, and by August 2004 it returned an answer: ICM's application failed the baseline sponsorship criteria of the process.

The next year ICM tried yet again. This time the story line unfolded a bit differently: ICANN entered into negotiations with ICM on the proposed commercial and technical terms for a .XXX domain.

ICANN received overwhelming responses both in support and against the creation of the .XXX domain -- including input from the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, which claimed ICM was distorting the support from industry.

The proposal stalled again as governments weighed in on the proposal. A revised proposal was submitted in 2006 -- which ICANN voted against. Ditto for 2007.

The tide began to turn for ICM in 2008 when it filed a request for an independent review of the Board's action. The three-member review panel held a five-day hearing last September, during which both parties submitted written and live testimony.

The panel issued its declaration -- that ICM should have its top level domain -- in February of this year.

When that decision came out, ICANN's board decided to change its mind, Thrush said. The independent review "is an important procedural method. It means that ICANN is accountable and has the proper processes in place." He said that this about-face refutes accusations leveled at ICANN over the years that it lacks transparency.

Defining Porn

With ICANN having made up its mind to go forward, the adult entertainment industry and government organizations will have to come to some difficult decisions, Mukul Krishna, global director of digital media at Frost & Sullivan, told TechNewsWorld.

Throughout this process, he said, the same problem keeps arising: How does one define pornography? "Not all of these sites want to be classified as XXX. Some consider themselves artistic sites, for example."

There will also be rules to ensure children are kept away from the sites, now that they will be that much easier to identify and find.

Once those admittedly huge hurdles are successfully negotiated, there will be benefits to having a XXX top-level domain. It will make it easier for adult consumers to find porn, Krishna said. More to the point, it will make it easier for law enforcement agencies to combat illegal porn such as child pornography, he said.

View From the Industry

However, not everyone in the adult entertainment world looks forward to the process -- or the fact that a XXX top-level domain is being established. As it was envisioned by ICM Registry, .XXX would be strictly voluntary on the part of domain registrants, Quentin Boyer, director of Public Relations for the adult site, told TechNewsWorld. "It is the prospect of being forced to move to .XXX that has driven much of the opposition to the proposal from within the adult industry, as site operators worry about being forced to move to a location that is so easily filtered and blocked," he said.

Also, a .XXX top-level domain is likely to be far more costly than a .com domain, he said. "There is simply no way that porn companies are going to abandon their .com and other existing domains that they have spent years and millions of dollars branding and promoting."

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