Porn Web sites may soon have their own virtual red light district in the form of a .xxx domain.
After more than seven years of political wrangling, delays, and policy reversals, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, gave what appears to be final approval to the controversial .xxx domain. The domains could start appearing within a few months.
Today's vote by the ICANN board during a meeting in San Francisco came after national governments, including the United States, expressed concerns about a .xxx top-level domain, as did a collection of adult industry representatives who took to the streets in protest yesterday.
Concerns about the creation of .xxx ranged from the cost for adult Web sites to register .xxx domains in addition to their existing .com real estate, the likelihood that many nations will block .xxx domains, and concerns from from antiporn groups worried about granting official sanction to sexually explicit material. That's what led the Bush administration to formally object to the .xxx suffix in 2005.
Stuart Lawley, chief executive of ICM Registry, the company that submitted an application to ICANN for .xxx, applauded today's vote. "We believe consumers will be more prepared to make purchases on .xxx sites, safe in the knowledge their payments will be secure," he said. (See earlier CNET interview with Lawley.)
ICM Registry is already taking preregistrations for .xxx domains. There's also a process for companies not in the porn business to purchase domains during a "sunrise" period--those will be set aside as reserved and not available for anyone to use.
The Free Speech Coalition, a trade group representing the adult entertainment industry, expressed its disappointment with today's vote.
"The ICANN board has dangerously undervalued the input from governments worldwide," FSC director Diane Duke said in a statement. "Worse, they have disregarded overwhelming outpouring of opposition from the adult entertainment industry--the supposed sponsorship community--dismissing the interests of free speech on the Internet."
Steve DelBiano, director of the NetChoice coalition and veteran ICANN-watcher, said that the board was in a difficult position: if they rejected Lawley's proposal for .xxx, they'd face a lawsuit, yet someone else would surely bid for it during the next round of applications expected later this year. (NetChoice counts AOL, eBay, VeriSign, and Yahoo as members.)
But approving .xxx, DelBianco said, could generate another showdown with national governments.