The US government has expressed disappointment with ICANN for approving the .xxx top-level domain, surprising nobody.
Fox News is reporting Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary at the Department of Commerce and one of ICANN’s keynote speakers at the just-concluded San Francisco meeting:
We are disappointed that ICANN ignored the clear advice of governments worldwide, including the US. This decision goes against the global public interest, and it will open the door to more Internet blocking by governments and undermine the stability and security of the Internet.
As I reported Friday, ICANN used a literal interpretation of its Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice in order to make it appear that it was not disagreeing with it at all.
Essentially, because the GAC didn’t explicitly say “don’t delegate .xxx”, the ICANN board of directors was free to do so without technically being insubordinate.
Whether the GAC knew in advance that this was the board’s game plan is another question entirely.
Strickling is of course duty-bound to complain about .xxx – no government wanted to be seen to associate themselves with pornography – but he’s in a unique position to do something about it.
Strickling heads the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the named “Administrator” of the DNS root and ergo ICANN’s overseer.
It’s within his power to refuse to instruct VeriSign to inject .xxx into the DNS root system, but it’s a power few observers expect him to exercise.
As Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted yesterday:
If the US goes crazy and interferes with XXX’s entry into the root it will completely kill ICANN and open a Pandora’s box for governmental control of the DNS, a box that will never be closed.
Dire consequences indeed. It’s unlikely that the NTIA would risk killing off the ICANN project after so many years over a bit of T&A.
ICM Registry is rapidly approaching the 250,000 mark for “pre-reserved” .xxx domain names, after racking up an extra 30,000 expressions of interest in less than 24 hours.
The counter on the ICM web site currently shows 243,972 domains have been reserved, compared to 211,942 at this time yesterday.
The counter ticked up by 2,000 domains in the 20 minutes it took me to write this post.
(UPDATE: The number of pre-reservations just passed 250,000, 24 hours after .xxx was approved.)
ICANN approved the .xxx top-level domain shortly after noon Pacific time yesterday, generating blogosphere buzz, a ton of Twitter traffic, and dozens of media stories worldwide.
An extra 30,000 domains is the same ball park as .CO Internet received following its commercial on Super Bowl Sunday last month.
But these free .xxx reservations will not necessarily translate into paid-for registrations, of course. Many people will be scared away from the fee, which I estimate is likely to be $70 to $100 a year.
But even if just one fifth convert, we’re talking about $2.5 million annually into ICM’s pocket, and another $500,000 to fund IFFOR, its sponsoring body. ICM expects to have at least 300,000 registrations in this first year.
In approving the .xxx top-level domain, ICANN has for the first time explicitly overruled the wishes of international governments, as represented by its Governmental Advisory Committee.
In its rationale (pdf) for the decision, ICANN explains why it chose to disregard the GAC’s views.
There are two pieces of GAC advice that have been quite important. One was delivered in Wellington in 2007, the other was delivered yesterday
The Wellington GAC Communique noted that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”
That was repeated during a terse, 10-minute “bylaws consultation” on .xxx yesterday, during which the the GAC also said “there is no active support of the GAC for the introduction of a .xxx TLD”.
ICANN chose to reject (kinda) both of those pieces of advice, on the basis of a quite literal interpretation — that GAC support was unnecessary and the advice was not specific enough:
There is no contradiction with GAC advice on this item. Active support of the GAC is not a required criteria in the 2004 sTLD round. Further, this is not advice from the GAC either to delegate .XXX or to not delegate .XXX, and therefore the decision to delegate .XXX is not inconsistent with this advice.
Unfortunately, this gives pretty much no clue to how the board will treat minority GAC positions in future, such as when some governments object to new gTLDs.
But companies planning to apply for potentially controversial TLDs can take heart from other parts of the rationale.
For example, the board did not buy the notion that .xxx should be rejected because some countries are likely to block it.
Saudi Arabia has already said it intends to filter out .xxx domains.
The GAC was worried that this kind of TLD blocking would lead to a fragmented root and competing national naming systems, but ICANN wasn’t so sure. The rationale reads:
The issue of governments (or any other entity) blocking or filtering access to a specific TLD is not unique to the issue of the .XXX sTLD. Such blocking and filtering exists today. While we agree that blocking of TLDs is generally undesirable, if some blocking of the .XXX sTLD does occur there’s no evidence the result will be different from the blocking that already occurs.
It’s been noted that some Muslim countries, for example, block access to Israel’s .il domain.
One director, George Sadowsky, dissented from the majority view, as is his wont. In a lengthy statement, he named stability as one reason he voted against .xxx.
He said “the future of the unified DNS could be at stake” and “could encourage moves to break the cohesiveness and uniqueness of the DNS”.
He drew a distinction between the filtering that goes on already and filtering that would come about as a direct result of an ICANN board action.
He was, however, in the minority, which makes proposed TLDs such a .gay seem likely to get less of a rough ride in future.
ICANN’s board of directors today approved the .xxx top-level domain, over the objections of governments and pornographers.
The vote was 9 to 3 in favor, with three directors recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest and the CEO abstaining (pretty typical for votes on .xxx over the years, I think it’s a liability thing).
Assuming the US government, which controls the DNS, doesn’t try the nuclear option of overruling ICANN, .xxx could make it into the root about 10 days from now.
Now expect ICM Registry to ramp up the marketing quite quickly – it’s aiming to launch the first of its three sunrise periods in mid-June, just three months from now.
We’re looking at a landrush certainly before the end of the year.
While ICM, in a press release today, said .xxx domains “will only be available to the adult entertainment industry”, the industry is self-defining, and president Stuart Lawley has previously stated that flipping porn domain names counts as an industry service.
Domain investors are welcome, if not necessarily encouraged, in other words.
I hear ICM has already reached out to registrars, giving them a mid-April deadline to apply to be evaluated.
The TLD launching on schedule will of course also depend on whether any legal action is taken to stop it. Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, said at a press conference yesterday that the FSC is thinking about suing.
She also said that it may arrange some kind of boycott, which strikes me as a terrible idea – how many pornographers will refuse to defensively register their .xxx domains out of principle? Very few, I suspect.
The FSC said last week that it was also looking into a Reconsideration Request or an Independent Review Panel procedure, which are the only two real avenues of appeal through ICANN.
An IRP could be more expensive than a lawsuit, and if precedent is any guide even a successful Reconsideration would be moot – it would take at least a month, by which time ICM’s registry contract would be long since signed.
It seems likely that ICM’s long, strange, expensive journey into the DNS may finally be at an end.
A small group of Free Speech Coalition supporters are currently holding a protest against the .xxx top-level domain, outside the ICANN meeting in San Francisco.
The rally outside the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square has attracted about 25 people by my count, chanting slogans such as “We want porn! No triple-X!”
Noted porn producer/performer John “Buttman” Stagliano is among them, although he seems to be keeping to the sidelines.
Not to judge, but another of the protestors appears to be the same homeless guy who’s been bothering me for change and cigarettes all week.
Also attending, first amendment attorney Paul Cambria. There’s an unsubstantiated rumor he’s ready to serve ICANN and/or ICM Registry with a lawsuit if .xxx gets approved tomorrow.
He declined to comment on the rumor.
There’s an FSC press conference shortly, and Cambria tells me he’s going to be making a statement at the ICANN public comment forum later this afternoon.
I’ll update when it becomes clearer what the FSC’s game-plan is.