Commerce Raises New Concerns Over .XXX

Commerce Raises New Concerns Over .XXX
Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Commerce Department has issued a letter to the chair of ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee expressing concern that the proposed registry agreement for .XXX scheduled to be voted on this week in Wellington, New Zealand is missing key provisions that ICM Registry had promised in past presentations.

The letter does not ask ICANN to take any specific action, such as delaying the vote on the controversial sponsored top-level domain, but Peter Dengate, a member of ICANN’s voting board, said issues raised in the letter could be enough to defer a vote.

“Once everybody is in Wellington, it is difficult for routine work to be done,” Dengate said, “so for perfectly good business reasons, it [the vote on .XXX] may not make the agenda in Wellington.”

Milton Mueller of ICANN Watch believes the letter is an attempt by Commerce to once again intervene with the establishment of the .XXX domain. According to Mueller, the letter’s author, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information John M. R. Kneuer, is playing dirty pool in an attempt to stall a vote.

“The problem is that [Commerce] knows perfectly well why those commitments are not in the registry agreement: because the registry agreement they are criticizing is not the final one,” Mueller said. “It's difficult, if not impossible, for ICM to move ahead on any of these issues until the GAC and the [U.S. government] stop threatening to veto the whole domain.”

In his letter, Kneuer said his is concerned that “certain public interest benefits” previously promised by ICM Registry are not reflected in the current draft of the Registry Agreement, and he claims that ICM would not be obligated to provide those benefits if the agreement is approved this week.

The specific provisions Kneuer said are missing include:

  • The formation of a nonprofit policy development agency to create rules for .XXX. Kneuer said the current draft agreement makes not specific mention of the previously proposed International Foundation for Online Responsibility and instead “delegates all policy development authority for .XXX to ICM.”
  • Requiring .XXX registrants to adhere to best business practices.
  • Requiring all registrants to be labeled according to the Internet Content Ratings Association for filtering purposes.
  • Safeguarding children by sponsoring the development of technologies and educational programs. Commerce complained that the agreement lacks programs for combating child pornography, such as requiring sites to provide proof of age for models, as well as funding for global child-protection initiatives. ICM has promised in presentations and support materials to donate $10 per domain to fund such programs, but the draft agreement does not specifically mention the donation.
  • Implementing a WhoIs compliance program.
  • Promoting responsible marketing practices and prohibiting SPAM and malicious code.
  • Mueller said that Commerce has raised similar concerns in the past, and that ICM Registry’s Stuart Lawley has pointed out that, in doing so, the agency is placing higher expectations on ICM Registry than it does on registries for other sTLDs.

    In an earlier response to a similar Commerce claim, Lawley wrote that such details will be ironed out after ICM Registry gets ICANN’s approval to move forward. It is unrealistic, he said, “to expect the community to undertake this significant work, and for ICM to fund it, in advance of ICANN’ s ratification of the proposed Registry Agreement. No other sTLD has been asked to do so.”