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.xxx top-level domain back on the agenda

Category : Domain names, ICANN, Internet, Journalism, Technology · by Jan 7th, 2007

Well, Stuart Lawley won’t take no for any answer and .xxx has popped up on the ICANN agenda again, this time with such extraordinary controls and safeguards that it makes you wonder whether the business case is still there.

Contrary to common belief, the .xxx domain was never ruled out. In fact, because it had been officially approved by the ICANN Board before the US government, among others, went ballistic, the official line has always been that the contract drawn up wasn’t right.

And so ICM Registry has gone away and come back with yet more changes and yet more wording and concessions in a bid to get .xxx through. There is a lot in there and the wording is pretty uncompromising.

There are “obligations”. And those obligations include:

  • Prohibiting child pornography
  • Requiring clear content labelling by registrants
  • Prohibiting consumer fraud
  • Prohibiting spam

I mean, for god’s sake, just ask in order: any supplier of free storage; YouTube; eBay; and any ISP on the planet, to be obligated to provide each of these and they will laugh in your face. The Internet doesn’t work like that.

ICM Registry is also obliged to get third parties to check to monitor its own compliance (this is ICANN’s attempt to avoid becoming an Internet censor – something that would spell disaster); to let ICANN have 30-day approval of any changes ICM wants to make; provide reports; and to pay ICANN up front and in full. Oh, and to “reserve geographic and religiously/culturally sensitive names” – and that is going to mean the most enormous list of domains from the Arab-speaking world.

This is so restrictive that you have to wonder why Stuart Lawley is going through with it (I’ll email him and ask). I hope it isn’t out of some misplaced determination to get .xxx no matter what after he has fought so long and hard for what is, after all, in the cold light of day and in theory, a pretty good idea. How else is pornography – which is out of control on the Net – going to be contained?

ICANN is on a no-win rollercoaster here, as perhaps it always was. With such a controversial domain, the only solution is the one seemingly presented here: approve it, allow it to exist and watch it wither on the vine as the restrictions mean it is impossible to make any money.

I have a feeling that government representatives will recognise that situation all too clearly. It remains to be seen if there is a big fuss in the meantime however.

Update:

Stuart just got back. He reckons I’ve got it all arse-about-face. “Everything in the contract was originally in the proposal as submitted in March 2004 so nothing has changed. To check the whole list of xxx sites weekly or monthly for the presence of ICRA tag is a simple automated process and to have a compliance program for checking for child abuse images is also not a big problem. The costs for doing this were already factored in, hence the $60 registration fee.”

As for the business case: “Most certainly. Based on the feedback we have received over the last 4 years and based on the numbers we have taken as part of our ‘industry pre-reservation’ service we launched in late may, we will over achieve the forecast numbers prescribed in the original business plan submitted to ICANN as part of the original application by many many fold. I understand .mobi is around 300k registrations so far and I still stand confidently behind my forecast that xxx will be the most successful sTLD ever introduced by ICANN.”

So there you have it – ICM Registry is still sure it can work.

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