updated 5/10/2006 10:06:42 PM ET 2006-05-11T02:06:42

Faced with opposition from conservative groups and some pornography Web sites, the Internet’s key oversight agency voted Wednesday to reject a proposal to create a red-light district on the Internet.

The decision from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers reverses its preliminary approval last June to create “.xxx” domain names for voluntary use by the adult entertainment industry.

Paul Twomey, ICANN’S chief executive, said the decision largely came down to whether by creating the “.xxx” domain ICANN might be put in a position of having to enforce all of the world’s laws governing pornography.

He said board members were aware of the controversy, but “the heart of the decision today was not driven by a political consideration.”

ICANN had postponed making a final decision in August after the U.S. government stepped in, just days before a scheduled meeting to underscore objections it had received.

Turns back 6-year-long effort
ICANN’s rejection in a 9-5 vote ends, for now, a 6-year-old effort by ICM Registry Inc. of Jupiter, Fla., to establish a domain for the porn industry. ICANN first tabled its bid in 2000 out of fear it would be getting into content control.

ICM resubmitted its bid in 2004, this time structuring it with a policy-setting organization to free ICANN of that task.

The company argued the domain would help the $12 billion online porn industry clean up its act. Those using the domain would have to abide by yet-to-be-written rules designed to bar such trickery as spamming and malicious scripts.

Objections from both sides
Anti-porn advocates, however, countered that sites would be free to keep their current “.com” address, in effect making porn more easily accessible by creating yet another channel to house it.

And they say such a domain name would legitimize adult sites, which two out of every five Internet users visit each month, according to tracking by comScore Media Metrix.

Many porn sites also objected, fearing that such a domain would pave the way for governments — the United States or repressive regimes abroad — or even private industry to filter speech that is protected here under the First Amendment.

Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Mark Pryor of Arkansas have introduced legislation that would create a mandatory “.xxx.”

The porn industry trade group Free Speech Coalition believes a domain name for kids-friendly sites would be more appropriate.

Dot-Tel gets green light
Meanwhile, ICANN approved the creation of a domain name designed to help people manage their contact information online.

As envisioned, Internet users could buy a “.tel” name and set up a Web site with their latest digits — home, cell and work phone numbers, home and work e-mail addresses, instant messaging handles and perhaps even a MySpace profile.

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