Internet agency turns down '.xxx' domain

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The Internet's key oversight agency voted Friday not to give adult Web sites their own ".xxx" domain, the third time it has rejected the idea.

Many in the adult-entertainment industry and religious groups alike had criticized the plan. The Canadian government also warned this week that it could put the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers in the tricky business of content regulation, having to decide which sites are pornographic and which are not.

Porn sites opposed to ".xxx" were largely concerned that the domain name, while billed as voluntary, would eventually lead to governments mandating its use and pushing them into a so-called online ghetto.

Religious groups worried that ".xxx" would legitimize and expand the number of adult sites, which more than a third of U.S. Internet users visit each month, according to comScore Media Metrix. The Web site measurement firm said 4 percent of all Web traffic and 2 percent of all time spent Web surfing involved an adult site.

"This decision was the result of very careful scrutiny and consideration of all the arguments. That consideration has led a majority of the board to believe that the proposal should be rejected," said Vinton Cerf, ICANN's chairman.

The 9-5 decision came at an open board meeting, with each of the voting members explaining their reasoning. It came nearly seven years after the proposal was first floated by ICM Registry LLC, a Florida startup that handles Web-site registrations with the aim of overseeing sites that want to have the ".xxx" Internet suffix.

Paul Twomey, ICANN's chief executive, who had described the proposal this week as "clearly controversial, clearly polarizing" abstained from the vote but did not say why.

"We are extremely disappointed by the board's action today," said Stuart Lawley, ICM's president and chief executive.

He added that ICM would pursue the matter further and said a lawsuit against ICANN was likely.

Suppportive board members said ICANN should not block new domains over fears of content regulation, noting that local, state and national laws could be used to decide what is pornographic.

Nearly all of the board members who voted against approving the domain said they were concerned about the possibility that ICANN could find itself in the content regulation business.

Opponents said they believed that opposition to the domain by the adult industry, including Web masters, content providers and others, was proof that the issue was divisive and that ".xxx" was not a welcome domain.

Board member Raimundo Beca of Chile, who voted against the domain said the adult industry, "has been from the very beginning so split about this."

ICM cited preregistrations of more than 76,000 names as evidence of support.

ICANN agency tabled and effectively rejected a similar '.xxx' proposal in 2000 out of similar content regulation fears.

ICM resubmitted its proposal in 2004, this time with language establishing a policy-setting organization to free ICANN of that task. But many board members worried that the language of the proposed contract was vague and could kick the task back to ICANN. The board rejected the 2004 proposal last May.

ICANN revived the proposal in January after ICM agreed to hire independent organizations to monitor porn sites' compliance with the new rules, which would be developed by a separate body called the International Foundation for Online Responsibility.

ICANN will no longer hear ICM's proposal but an entirely new application could be considered.

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