ICANN Delays Final Decision on ‘.xxx’ Domain

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will delay a final vote on whether to approve and activate the “.xxx” top-level domain after requests from the U.S. government and others to hold off on a decision, which was to come this week.

The domain has already received preliminary approval from ICANN, with mainly technical issues dealing with the operation of the domain and contract details with operator ICM Registry of Florida to be worked out. A final vote will now come no earlier than the group’s next meeting on September 15. ICM first proposed the domain nearly five years ago only to have its initial proposal rejected by ICANN.

International Incident

ICANN had recently heard from a subcommittee that the domain was making governments around the world uneasy. ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee chairman had suggested that time be taken to let government agencies weigh in on the domain.

But the final straw was a letter from U.S. assistant secretary of commerce Michael Gallagher, who told ICANN that the Commerce Department had received nearly 6,000 letters and e-mail messages about the proposed domain, most raising questions about the impact of the new domain on children.

“The volume of correspondence is unprecedented,” Gallagher said. Because of the outpouring of public comment, Gallagher said that extra time would be need “for these concerns to be voiced and addressed.”

Opposition Grows Louder

Though it made no formal announcement about the delay, ICANN’s board did not vote on the registry contract approval yesterday as planned and has now scheduled such a vote for its September meeting.

That ICANN would heed to the demands of the U.S. government is no surprise. The Commerce Department created ICANN and only recently shelved a plan that would have given the group more autonomy to oversee the naming system that enables the Internet to operate effectively.

The triple-x domain has become a flashpoint of controversy on numerous fronts. ICM has tried to address concerns about the impact on young people by creating a non-profit board to oversee the registry and working with the International Foundation for Online Responsibility to administer the domain. ICM also laid out a set of rules that those who applied for the domain would have to follow.

Much of the pressure put on the Commerce Department appears to have come from conservative groups and those representing family values issues. The Family Research Council praised the decision to hold off on the approval.

“The ‘.xxx’ domain proposal is an effort to pander to the porn industry and offers nothing but false hope to an American public which wants illegal pornographers prosecuted, not rewarded,” said Patrick Trueman, the top lawyer at the Council. “If the ‘.xxx’ domain were established, pornographers would keep their lucrative ‘.com’ commercial sites and expand to even more sites on ‘.xxx,’ thus becoming even more of a menace to society.”

Hit for ICANN

Different groups have raised a range of concerns about the domain. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed fear that governments would mandate that porn sites move to the “.xxx” domain, creating an online red light district and possibly limiting or restricting speech in the process.

Some have also warned that the domain could give rise to a new form of cybersquatting or with companies forced to register domains on the new domain simply to take them out of circulation and prevent it from appearing in the pornography realm.

While “.xxx” has created the most outcry, critics of ICANN and its processes for approving new domains have come under fire before. Many say that ICANN does not allow for enough public involvement or feedback, which results in near-sighted decisions. For instance, another recently OK’d top-level domain, “.mobi” for content suitable for access by mobile devices, is seen by some as a path to a second-rate, mobile-only Internet experience.

“The fact that ICANN did an about-face on .xxx in the first placed shows how they make major decisions without significant and broad input from the public,” Lauren Weinstein, the founder of People For Internet Responsibility, told the E-Commerce Times. “They are constantly forced to explain how they arrived at their decisions after the fact, instead of opening the process up as it’s going on.”

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