The Internet’s key oversight agency agreed Tuesday to a one-month delay in approving a new “.xxx” domain name after the U.S. government cited “unprecedented” opposition to a virtual red-light district.
Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary for communications and information at the Commerce Department, had stopped short of urging its rejection, but he called on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to “ensure the best interests of the Internet community as a whole are fully considered.”
The department received nearly 6,000 letters and e-mails expressing concerns about the impact of pornography on families and children and objecting to setting aside a domain suffix for it, he said.
“The volume of correspondence opposed to creation of a .xxx TLD (domain name) is unprecedented,” Gallagher wrote to Vinton Cerf, ICANN’s chairman.
Gallagher said ICANN should take more time to evaluate those concerns.
The chairman of ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, Mohd Sharil Tarmizi, also wrote ICANN officials last week urging delay and expressing “a strong sense of discomfort” among many countries, which he did not name.
ICANN’s board decided Tuesday to rescheduled the matter for Sept. 15.
Approval had been expected as early as Tuesday, five years after the domain name was first proposed and two months after ICANN gave it a tentative OK.
Gallagher’s letter, sent last week and made public Monday, had particular resonance because his agency has veto power over ICANN decisions given the U.S. government’s role in funding early developing of the Internet and selecting ICANN in 1998 to oversee domain name administration.
But ICANN also was swayed by an agreement to a one-month delay by the chief backers of “.xxx,” ICM Registry Inc. of Jupiter, Fla.
Two in five Internet users visited an adult site in April, according to tracking by comScore Media Metrix. The company said 4 percent of all Web traffic and 2 percent of all surfing time involved an adult site.
ICM proposed “.xxx” as a mechanism for the $12 billion online porn industry to clean up its act. All sites using “.xxx” would be required to follow yet-to-be-written “best practices” guidelines, such as prohibitions against trickery through spamming and malicious scripts.
Use of “.xxx” would be voluntary, however.
Skeptics note that porn sites are likely to keep their existing “.com” storefronts, even as they set up shop in the new “.xxx” domain name, reducing the effectiveness of any software filters set up to simply block all “.xxx” names.
Conservative groups such as the Family Research Council also expressed worries that creating a “.xxx” suffix would also legitimize pornographers.
But ICM chairman Stuart Lawley, in a response to ICANN, pointed out that the agency already offered ample opportunity to raise objections.
“We are, to say the very least, disappointed that concerns that should have been raised and addressed weeks and months ago are being raised in the final days,” he said.
In an interview, ICM founder Jason Hendeles suggested the criticism stemmed from a misunderstanding of the proposal, and he said its executives would spend the next month trying to clarify its intent.
ICANN on Tuesday also delayed approval of a less controversial domain name, “.cat” for sites devoted to Catalan language and culture, citing a need to further clarify terms of a proposed contract with its sponsors.
More than 260 domain name suffixes exist, mostly country codes such as “.fr” for France. Recent additions include “.eu” for the European Union and “.mobi” for mobile services.