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A Summary and Analysis of ICANN's Public Comment Period on Dot-XXX

We hired ICANN's former General Manager of Public Participation, Kieren McCarthy, (who was responsible for public comment periods at ICANN for three years) to write a summary and analysis of the recent public comment period regarding our dot-xxx application.

We reproduce the Executive Summary from the analysis below. Below that is the full Summary and Analysis. You can also find these documents on our blog. It is also available PDF format.

* * *Summary/analysis of the following comment period:

Report of Possible Process Options for Further Consideration of the ICM Application for the .XXX sTLD

Date opened: 26 March 2010
Date closed: 10 May 2010
Prepared by: Kieren McCarthy

Executive Summary

The comment period attracted a very high response from the ICANN community, the Internet community and the general public due to the nature of the topic. It also generated some press interest. The vast majority of responses arrived through organized online campaigns.

In overall terms, there was a clear split between those who wish the Board to accept all findings of the IRP Declaration ("option 1") and those who want the Board to adopt the Declaration's dissenting opinion ("option 3"). No respondents spoke in favour of "option 2" where the Board accepted in part and rejected in part the Declaration.

The main argument put forward by those supporting Option 1 was that ICANN has a duty to follow its independent review process and its credibility will be damaged if it were to reject the result of that process.

The main argument put forward by those supporting Option 3 was two-fold: first, that pornography itself is damaging and since the dot-xxx top-level domain is designed specifically for this sort of content, the Board should reject its creation; and second, that the dot-xxx applicant, ICM Registry, had not met the necessary sponsorship requirements for approval.

Affected Parties

Affected parties are taken to be: the dot-xxx applicant, ICM Registry; members of dot-xxx's sponsored community; and members of the wider online adult entertainment industry.

ICM Registry argued that ICANN is obliged to follow "option 1" i.e. to accept the IRP Declaration in full. It also argued that option 1 itself includes a number of "unnecessary and inappropriate processes" which go against the Declaration, ICANN's own bylaws and international law. It concluded that the only course open to ICANN is to enter into a registry agreement with it at the earliest opportunity.

This request for an expedited process in signing a dot-xxx registry agreement was also put forward by other affected parties, the majority of whom posted comments through an online campaign organized by ICM Registry.

At the same time, a significant number of affected parties took the opposite view: that the Board should choose "option 3" and reject the dot-xxx application, arguing that since they were potential members of the sponsoring community for dot-xxx but did not want the top-level domain, ipso facto ICM Registry did not meet the sponsorship criteria for approval.

The majority of the comments in favour of option 3 came in response to two online campaigns: one by the Free Speech Coalition (FSC), an Adult Entertainment Trade Association; and a second by the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network (AEBN), an adult content provider with a large affiliate network and an FSC member.

ICANN's Supporting Organization and Advisory Committees

The At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and Non Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) supplied responses to the comment period.


ALAC noted the thoroughness of the independent review process and requested that the Panel's decision be taken into account. It also asked that the issue be dealt with swiftly and transparently, but did not explicitly advocate any of the options.

Two of ALAC's Regional At Large Organizations (RALOs) submitted additional statements: APRALO (Asia Pacific) said the issue was one of "procedural justice" and that ICANN should follow its procedures; NARALO (North America) gave its support to "option 1" and said in addition that ICANN should approve the dot-xxx application "without further unwarranted process".


The NCUC argued that the Board should accept the Declaration in full and prepare to add dot-xxx to the Internet's root. To do otherwise would "seriously undermine ICANN's credibility and raise fundamental questions about its accountability mechanisms".

It also argued that ICANN should "focus exclusively on compliance with its own appeals process" rather than consider the issues of content, free speech and censorship raised by other commenters.

External Parties

A very large number of comments were received, the vast majority through a number of online campaigns, both for and against the dot-xxx application. (See "Broader community and campaigns" for full details.) The campaigns were organized by the same three groups that have dominated dot-xxx public comment periods since 2004:

1. Pro-xxx.
Organized by the applicant ICM Registry and its sponsoring organization, IFFOR. A few hundred respondents representing both the general public and the adult industry presented a clear preference for "option 1" arguing that ICANN needed to follow its own independent review process. Many also argued for an expedited process in approving a contract for the dot-xxx top-level domain.

2. Anti-xxx.
Organized by the Free Speech Coalition ("the Adult Entertainment Trade Association"), and the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network (AEBN), an adult content provider with a large affiliate network. A few hundred respondents within the adult content industry presented a clear preference for "option 3". Many argued that the application did not have support of the adult industry and expressed concerns surrounding the running of a dot-xxx registry.

3. Anti-pornography
Organized by a number of Christian groups within the United States, including the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Women for Decency, Utah Coalition Against Pornography and PornHarms.com. More than 10,000 respondents asked for the rejection of the dot-xxx top-level domain, mostly out of concern for the moral impact of pornography on society.

Press interest

The nature of the public comment period provoked press interest, particularly in the technology press.

Articles regarding the comment period appeared in the following outlets (in no particular order): the BBC, The Register, Domain Name Wire, DomainIncite, The UWM Post, Tech.Blorge, WorldNetDaily, CircleID, PC Magazine, PC World, ZDNet, GeekSugar, Silicon Republic, V3.co.uk, The Domains, Xbiz, among others.

In general, the articles that expressed an opinion came down in favour of "option 1" and the approval of the dot-xxx application. This opinion was also largely reflected in comments to the articles from readers and in online polls.

Analysis and Conclusion

This comment period was characterized by a very large number of form-responses to active campaigns from a small number of organizations. This reflects ICANN's experience with previous comment periods concerning the dot-xxx application.

Many of the arguments raised during the comment period have been raised in previous rounds by the same organizations. As such, they may be considered to have been addressed during the Independent Review Process itself and so form part of the IRP Declaration.

In particular, the Independent Review Panel specifically reviewed the two main arguments put forward by those opposed to dot-xxx, namely the moral nature of content that would be hosted on dot-xxx domains, and the question of whether the applicant had met the necessary sponsorship criteria.

The controversial nature of adult content has also drawn into the comment period many thousands of individuals who may have only limited knowledge of either ICANN or the issues at the heart of the process options paper put out to review.

Seen overall, there is a clear polarization of views between those who wish the ICANN Board to approve the dot-xxx application (as well as remove the additional processes included as part of "option 1") and those who wish the Board to reject the dot-xxx application with finality.

The ICANN community itself has expressed a clear preference for the Board to accept the Independent Review Panel's majority conclusions and react accordingly, swiftly and in a transparent manner.


Outline of public comment period

The public comment was opened on 26 March 2010 in response to a Board resolution passed on 12 March 2010 at a public meeting of the Board in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Board directed ICANN's CEO and General Counsel to produce a report of "possible process options" that would "enable the community to provide input on the Board processes" with respect to the application for a dot-xxx sponsored top-level domain.

The report was produced in response to a Declaration of ICANN's Independent Review Process [pdf] concerning the dot-xxx application, published on 19 February 2010. This was the first use of ICANN's final accountability mechanism.

The IRP process and Declaration

Between June 2008 and October 2009, the Independent Review Process considered the case put before it by the dot-xxx applicant, ICM Registry, that the ICANN Board has been wrong to reject its application in March 2007, having voted in June 2005 that its application had met all the review criteria.

In its Declaration, the three-member Panel ruled on five issues. All three panelists concluded first that their declaration was advisory and did not constitute a binding decision on ICANN.

Thereafter, two of the arbitrators (ICM Registry's nominee, and the third panelist and Chair) found in ICM's favor on each of the following four points:

  • That the actions of the ICANN Board should be appraised by the Panel in an objective, rather than deferential, manner.
  • That ICANN is required to operate with relevant general principles of law (such as "good faith"), including international law.
  • That the ICANN Board found ICM Registry had met the relevant sponsorship criteria for dot-xxx when it voted to open contract negotiations with the company in June 2005.
  • That the ICANN Board's reconsideration of the sponsorship criteria (and subsequent rejection of the dot-xxx application) in March 2007 was not consistent with the organization's own policies that it be neutral, objective and fair.

The third panelist, ICANN's nominee, disagreed with the findings and expressed a dissenting opinion.

The process options paper

In response to the IRP Declaration, the Board asked ICANN's General Counsel to provide a paper that outlined what the organization's possible options were going forward.

That paper [pdf] offered three broad options: to accept the Declaration in full; to accept it in part; or to accept the dissenting opinion. These were termed options 1, 2 and 3 respectively.

In addition to these basic options, the paper also outlined a series of subsequent process steps. They were:

  • A fresh review of the dot-xxx application under either the initial application criteria (the "2004 round criteria"), or the rules currently under development for new "generic" top-level domains (the "new gTLD criteria")
  • A fresh review of the advice supplied by ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), whether that be the advice provided prior to the 2005 Board vote in favour of dot-xxx ("2005 GAC advice"); prior to the 2007 Board vote to reject the dot-xxx application ("2007 GAC advice"); or to seek new advice from the GAC
  • Re-negotiation of the dot-xxx contract agreement based on the results of the two processes above
  • Posting for public comment the results of the contract re-negotiation

It is the content of this paper that was put out to public comment for 45 days. Alongside the paper were included an Options Map [pdf] and an Evaluation Decision Process Map [pdf].

Summary of comments received

The comment period received an extremely large number of comments, the majority of them in the last few days of the comment period.

It is difficult to get a precise figure on the number of comments due to the quirks of the comment period software. However the figures below are based on comments that publicly appeared on the relevant web pages and were sent between 26 March 2010 and 10 May 2010, according to the comment system's own clock.

The comment period received nearly 13,000 comments (12,757) between 26 March and 10 May 2010. Of those, 12,361 or 96.9 percent were the result of organized online campaigns that provided web forms with standard text and encouraged individuals to support their campaign by reposting the text into the comment period. (See "Broader community and campaigns" below for more information.)

There is evidence of some individuals posting repeated comments but given the overall number of responses, they are statistically irrelevant.

Discussion regarding relative weighting of comments received

The number and style of comments to the comment period pose a significant problem to ICANN if it wishes to accurately assess the mood of the broader community.

The vast majority of comment periods undertaken by ICANN, of which there are, on average, 10 per month, receive an average of just 15 comments. These low numbers typically represent a small-but-informed part of the ICANN community and are in response to papers that have limited appeal beyond that group.

For this reason, ICANN has never adequately addressed the issue of how to weight responses when a comment period draws a larger audience, and particularly if a comment period gains wide awareness or is the subject of focused campaigning by pressure groups.

It is an unfortunate truth that the more people aware of an issue, the less precise their understanding of the detail. This is certainly the case with a large proportion of the comments submitted to this comment period.

A very high percentage of comments (10,511 or 82 percent) relayed the same two paragraphs of text. That in itself is no indication that the respondents were not informed of the issue they were commenting on. However, in reviewing where the majority of comments came from, there appears to be only a single line of explanation to potential respondents, and one that is clearly misleading ("No enforcement regulation means amount of adult material will explode").

Additionally, many responses (1,417 or 11 percent of the messages sent through the campaign form) appeared in the comment forum with the template's subject line still intact — "(Please enter your own subject line)" — - a clear indication that little or no attention was given to the topic before the individual submitted his or her response.

Faced with this reality, it is clear that some kind of weighting system is needed to ensure that other, more considered, comments are given the necessary consideration.

There are two metrics that can provide some insight into the depth of understanding and value of response to email campaigns: degree of variability (high or low) in responses i.e. if individuals personalize their responses they demonstrate greater reflection; and depth and objectively of background material (high or low) provided to those encouraged to sign up to the campaign.

Assuming those broad-brush metrics for valuing online campaigns, how should one then compare those campaigns with the other comments sent in by individuals, or from members of the ICANN and Internet communities, or from the organization's Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees?

Online campaigning

Online form-based campaigns are, by their very nature, black-and-white and so poorly suited for the complex and multi-faceted work that ICANN typically undertakes.

Additionally, since ICANN is not an organization with a fixed, or even measurable community, the main metric arising from an online campaign — the number of people that have chosen to send the prescribed comment — does not have anything to compare itself against.

For example, it could be argued that the number of individuals affected by ICANN decisions includes every person online (currently 1.8 billion individuals). The reality is that ICANN's public comment process, where contribution is open-ended and voluntary, is entirely unsuited to a referendum-style approach.

ICANN does have an institutional measure of agreement however: its Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs). These groups have been specifically designed to act as the representative voice for different stakeholders on the Internet and possess their own processes for gathering input and making statements. As such their input, if offered, should be weighted highly in a review of public comments.

That is not the same as saying input from outside the ACs and SOs should not be given significant consideration in a public comment process. The process itself ensures that the wider online community is in a position to flag any concerns they may have. And to do so in a simple and easy fashion. As such a public comment period serves as a useful external perspective for the organization.

The impact of such representation however should focus on the inherent logic of arguments made, rather than a measure of numbers behind any given viewpoint.

Weighting model

Taking these points into account, and accounting for the complexity of ICANN's work given its global, multi-stakeholder nature, here is a suggested framework for weighting responses, starting with the highest weighted response and moving down to the lowest weighting.


• ICANN Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees
• Affected parties (decided on a case-by-case basis)
• Members of the ICANN community (more aware of the issues)
• Members of the Internet community (more aware of the environment)
• Individual members of the public
• Online campaign (high variability of responses/high quality of background)
• Online campaign (low variability of responses/low quality of background)


In addition, there are complimentary factors that need to be considered, including:

• Size of response
• Logic of argument
• Practicality/legality
• External perspective (media, politicians etc)

Adopting that weighting approach, here is a summary of comments received:

ICANN Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees

One Supporting Organization and one Advisory Committee responded to the comment period.


The Non Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) response argues that the ICANN Board faces "a very simple choice": accept that it made a mistake in handling the dot-xxx application, or refuse to do so.

It questions the value of the three options outlined in the paper out for comment, and in particular the additional process that would follow those options. There are only two options, the NCUC argues: accept the IRP Declaration and create the dot-xxx top-level domain, or not do so. The additional processes are "distractions".

The NCUC expresses a clear preference for the Board accepting the IRP Declaration in full, stating that "anything less will raise serious doubts about ICANN's accountability mechanisms and will undermine the legitimacy of the corporation and its processes". It says it would be "deeply concerned" if the Board took a decision that ignored the IRP since it is one of ICANN's few external accountability mechanisms, and the dot-xxx issue was the first use of the IRP.

It further argues that ICM Registry should be offered a contract using the same template as previously approve sTLDs, such as dot-mobi and dot-jobs.

It continues: not complying with the IRP would encourage settlement through litigation; an approach that would not be in the interests of ICANN or its global community.

The decision also has free speech implications, the NCUC states. ICANN should not reject the dot-xxx string simply because of the content that may be associated with it or ICANN's approval of new top-level domains could "become a mechanism for content regulation or censorship".

Finally, the NCUC suggests that the Board "look past the noise that will surely be generated by any public discussion that touches on pornography" and "focus exclusively on compliance with its own appeals process".


The At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) response is foremost concerned with the transparency and accountability of the process. It notes "the considerable time taken in and thoroughness of the independent review" and asks that the independent review panel's decision be "taken in account" in "an expedient, equitable, and defensible manner". It adds that it would like to see the issue settled quickly and transparently.

In addition to the main ALAC statement, two of its five Regional At Large Organizations (RALOs) from Asia-Pacific and North American made individual statements.

APRALO said it felt the issues was one of procedural justice and argued that ICANN has to follow its own procedures. It noted however that it does not feel it is within its remit to support any specific top-level domain.

NARALO was more explicit with its support of "option 1". It argued that "ICANN should just approve the request [for dot-xxx] without further unwarranted process".

Affected parties

The comment period concerns a specific top-level domain. As a result, there is a clear case for considering the affected parties' comments separately.

As the applicant for dot-xxx, ICM Registry is most significantly impacted by the options paper put forward. However, the future of dot-xxx also directly affects other groups, notably the "sponsoring community", as well as those in the wider online adult entertainment industry.

ICM Registry provided an extensive response to the comment period, along with a graphic that reflected the Options and Process Maps provided within ICANN's paper .

The response's overall conclusion was that an expedited version of "option 1" where ICANN signs a registry agreement with the company as soon as possible, was the only option available to ICANN. All other options would result in "violations" of the IRP Declaration, ICANN Bylaws, ICANN Articles of Incorporation, Californian law or international law. The graphic supplied indicated how each of the other steps outlined in the paper's maps caused a specific set of violations.

The response made a number of other points, including that ICM felt the paper had overlooked the main finding of the IRP Declaration: that ICANN had determined ICM's application met all the necessary criteria in 2005 — specifically the sponsorship criteria - and that the 2007 Board decision to reject dot-xxx was a violation of ICANN's own bylaws.

ICM was critical of the process steps subsequent to "option 1", calling them "unnecessary and inappropriate" and saying they do not "derive even remotely from the Panel's findings". The paper supplied "no jurisprudential, procedural or policy-based rationale" for choosing "option 3" — where the dissenting opinion would be chosen over the majority decision.

The response warned that how the ICANN Board addressed the IRP Declaration would be scrutinized for years by policymakers, future TLD applicants and other Internet stakeholders. It also argued that the decision would send a clear signal about ICANN's commitment to accountability.

To do anything but accept the IRP Declaration in full ("option one") "would be at odds with the very objectives that led to the establishment of the Independent Review Process", ICM argued.

ICM's main point — that the ICANN Board should not only choose "option one" but also remove the suggested additional process steps and execute a registry agreement for dot-xxx as soon as possible — was also taken up by ICM's sponsoring community.

A majority of the responses from the sponsoring community came through one of three campaigns organized by ICM Registry and its sponsoring organization IFFOR. See "” below for more information.

Arguing for "option 3" — and so against "option one" — from the affected parties was The Free Speech Coalition (FSC). The FSC is a US-based adult entertainment trade association.

Its response argues that the ICANN Board should choose "option 3", rejecting the IRP Declaration's majority view and adopted the dissenting view of the third panelist. It quotes the dissenting opinion in making its main argument that ICM "never satisfied the sponsorship requirements and criteria for a sponsored TLD". It also argues that the Board's rejection of dot-xxx in 2007 was decided "on the merits in an open and transparent forum".

Part of the sponsorship requirement for sponsored top-level domains, the response argues, was that it "demonstrates broad-based support from the community it is intended to represent". The FSC argues that ICM Registry "never engaged the actual community it professes to serve" and questions the validity of ICM's claims that it has demonstrated community support.

The response also argues that the sponsoring organization, IFFOR, has a "disturbingly vague" selection process and worries that its influence will "not only damage the adult entertainment industry, but also stifle its expression".

The FSC requests that if the ICANN Board does ultimately decide to go with either option 1 or 2 that it again review the sponsorship criteria for dot-xxx. It argues that the ICM application is "unworkable" as a sponsored top-level domain, and suggests that a generic top-level domain (which has different rules) would be more practical.

The FSC's main point — that the ICANN Board should choose "option three" and reject the dot-xxx application because it does meet the sponsorship criteria for an sTLD — was also taken up by the FSC's members.

A majority of the responses from the adult entertainment industry against dot-xxx came through one of three campaigns organized by the FSC. See "Broader community and campaigns" below for more information.

ICANN and Internet community

In this case, the approach used to identify members of the ICANN and/or Internet communities was: non-campaign comments from individuals or organizations that have previously commented on an ICANN public comment period that was not about dot-xxx.

The result was a range of comments that focused mostly on the options paper (rather than the broader issue of pornography) and in particular on the Independent Review Process that led to the creation of the paper.

There was near-universal agreement that the ICANN Board should adopt the full Declaration of the Independent Review Panel, and should approve a registry agreement with ICM Registry for the top-level domain dot-xxx as soon as possible.

Several commenters were critical of the additional process steps included in the process paper. They are "unnecessary", "dilatory" and would involve "wasting the community and applicant's resources".

"What is at stake here, plainly and simply, is whether or not ICANN will adhere to the accountability framework that it had set up for itself." (Steve Goldstein)

"ICM Registry has made it past a rigorous series of blockades, traps, and hazards erected which they have addressed to the satisfaction of the board or reviewing bodies on numerous occasion. Many of which seem to have been erected for no other purpose than the intention of perpetually tangling and delaying their introduction." (Jothan Frakes)

"This IRP decision should not be, and cannot be, a referendum on pornography as some comments urge. This decision is only about ICANN's accountability mechanism - its means of correcting its past mistakes, and in particular its mishandling of the .xxx domain name application." (Robin Gross)

> "Whatever due diligence process process still needs to be conducted, it should be based on the 2004 critieria and the 2004 materials submitted by the applicant. It would be nonsense from ICANN to to ask for new materials, given that all the loss of time and money is ICANN's only responsibility, and that the applicant needs not to be even lore [sic] affected by this." (Patrick Vande Walle)

"ICANN and ICM need to bury any 'hatchets' and move on to contract negotiation as soon as possible. Failure to do so will cost ICANN heavily, not only in financial terms, but also in relation to its position as an international organisation." (Michele Neylon)

"Today, pornography (in all of its forms) pervades the Internet (on different many top-level domains) in large measure because ICANN has not approved ICM Registry's application to manage the .XXX TLD." (Ronald N. Andruff)

One commenter opposed to the approval of dot-xxx argued that ICANN should not be adding any new top-level domain to the Internet's root.

Broader community and campaigns

Almost every comment received from outside the ICANN and Internet community arrived through one of 11 online campaigns.

Each campaign comprised a template response (some editable) that supporters were encouraged to send to ICANN. In some cases, sending required only an email address and clicking a button.

The 11 campaigns are directly attributable to three groups: dot-xxx applicant ICM Registry; US adult industry body The Free Speech Coalition; and Christian groups within the United States, organized by the proprietor of PornHarms.com, Patrick Trueman.

The latter two groups were also behind previous high-volume campaigns against the dot-xxx top-level domain in August 2005, April 2006 and January 2007, including over 50,000 emails sent directly to then-CEO Paul Twomey.

We will briefly address each group:

ICM Registry: As the applicant for dot-xxx, ICM Registry ran a simple online form ("Campaign G”) on its website encouraging people to "Tell ICANN to make the responsible choice" and support its main argument — that the ICANN Board should follow the results of its independent review.

The responses generated from this campaign appeared in the last week of the comment period, with a large number contained within a single email sent by ICM Registry on the last day of the comment period.

ICM also carried out a second, private, campaign ("Campaign K”) to those in the adult industry that had expressed their support for dot-xxx asking them to sign up to a differently worded form template.

It emailed all of those that had "pre-registered" dot-xxx domains since 2006 and made them aware of the campaign. And included a link to some background information on the independent review process. The responses to this campaign were provided in a single email on the last day of the comment period.

A third campaign ("Campaign H”) was carried out by ICM Registry's sponsoring organization, IFFOR (International Foundation for Online Responsibility), on the front of its website aimed at the general public. It asked for people to support the labeling of adult content websites (a requirement of dot-xxx domains).

The responses generated from this campaign appeared in the last week of the comment period, with a large number contained within a single email sent by ICM Registry on the last day of the comment period.

The Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult entertainment industry, ran its campaign ("Campaign D”) on the front page of its website as a "call to action" in "defeating ICM's .XXX sTLD" and sent an email to all its members encouraging them to take part.

The campaign was aimed at demonstrating that a significant number of companies within the adult industry were not in favour of creating dot-xxx and that the ICANN Board was therefore right in rejecting the application previously because it does not have a sufficient "sponsoring community".

Responses to the campaign appeared in the middle of the comment period. The campaign was then partly redrafted by one the FSC's main backers, the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network (AEBN), and emailed to all of AEBN's affiliates ("Campaign F”) approximately one week after the initial FSC campaign.

The greatest number of organized campaigns and responses however came from Christian groups based in the United States, including the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, Women for Decency and Utah Coalition Against Pornography, with each broadly organized by the proprietor of PornHarms.com, a former chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the US Department of Justice, Patrick Trueman.

An initial short-form campaign ("Campaign A”) against dot-xxx was launched a week into the comment period. At the same time, Mr Trueman posted a long response, subsequently reposted by others ("Campaign B”) and then reduced down to smaller form-postings ("Campaign C” and "Campaign E”) following a series of talks given by Mr Trueman in which he encouraged people to post comments against dot-xxx.

In the last week of the comment period, the campaign style moved away from the moral aspects of pornography and focused on specific options contained within the options paper. "Campaign I” argued the same point at the Free Speech Coalition (that ICM Registry had not fulfilled its sponsorship requirements) before effort was turned to a two-paragraph statement ("Campaign J”) that argued the ICANN Board should choose option 3 and adopt the dissent finding of the IRP Declaration.

That campaign note was sent out as a press release and by email to 2.4 million US citizens, and posted on the American Family Association website, causing a spike of several thousands form-comments for the last few days of the comment period.

Key arguments

Almost without exception, commenters presented a polarized choice for the ICANN Board's next steps.

Despite the inclusion of three options, and a number of subsequent processes in the options paper, an overwhelming majority (99.8 percent of all comments) urged ICANN to take a definitive stance: either approve dot-xxx (as well as remove further processes), or reject dot-xxx outright.

Of those that choose "option 1" i.e. to approve dot-xxx, 98 percent requested that ICANN approve the contract as soon as possible, with 74 percent explicitly rejecting the additional process steps outlined in the options paper.

With such a clear split in opinion, this paper will therefore review the reasons put forward by each side in defense of their argument.

Option 1 arguments

The arguments put forward by those advocating "option 1" are represented graphically below (most comments made multiple arguments; any arguments put forward by fewer than one percent of respondents are not included).

Should follow Independent Review (77 percent)

Many respondents, particularly those within the ICANN community, argue that ICANN should feel itself obligated to follow the Independent Review Process fully or risk undermining confidence in it as an organization.

"A Board decision that ignores or circumvents the IRP decision would seriously undermine ICANN's credibility and raise fundamental questions about its accountability mechanisms." (NCUC)

"The independent review process did not happen overnight and was extremely thorough. If ICANN ignores its findings, then it will be very hard for many of us to respect ICANN as an organisation moving forward." (Michele Neylon).

"The independent review panel decided that the 2007 Board decision was wrong. Unless ICANN has no respect at all for the decision of the IRP, the only way forward is to proceed with the negotiation of the registry agreement. ICANN should stop wasting the community and applicant's resources on this procastrination [sic] exercise." (Patrick Vande Walle)

"The independent review is the final accountability mechanism for ICANN that was devised by ICANN. If you do anything but accept the full results of that review, you are undermining the foundation of trust granted to ICANN by the Internet community." (Campaign G, 170 responses)

"Accept the decision of the IRP and show the Internet community that ICANN does learn from its past mistakes and is capable of correcting them on its own and without further coercion." (Robin Gross)

Labeling improve situation (26 percent)

As part of its proposal for running the dot-xxx registry, ICM Registry will require all dot-xxx domain owners to appropriately label their websites as containing adult material. According to a blog post on the company's website, it intends to use a new W3C labeling specification called Powder to do so.

Currently there is no requirement on adult websites to label their sites. Required labeling would have positive knock-on effects for searching for and filtering adult content, say some commenters.

"Having a space on the Internet that is dedicated to this particular community would enable regulators to establish stricter guidelines on such content and allow for monitoring violations of those guidelines; both of which would lead to a much 'cleaner' and safer Internet for today's users and those in the future." (Ronald N. Andruff)

"It makes sense to classify adult sites in the .xxx domain. This would allow parents to block access to .xxx domains through their browsers, where only an unlock code set by the parents could re-establish access, and it would also allow internet service providers (ISPs) to block .xxx domains upon customer request." (Dave Pounder)

"It will not reduce the number of sites on the internet that contain adult material [but] it will make it easier for administrators and responsible parents to filter these sites out from their home computers and protect those in their charge." (Jonathan Stanton)

Other options break ICANN bylaws (13 percent)

In ICM Registry's response to the comment period, it outlined a number of different sets of "violations" of ICANN's bylaws, Articles of Incorporation, as well as international law if anything but "option 1" was followed .

This argument, as well as related arguments about ICANN being obliged to follow its own processes, were put forward by a number of commenters.

Other arguments

A number of other arguments for choosing option 1 were put forward, including:

  • That dot-xxx would help protect children online
  • That ICANN should look beyond the United States to the global Internet
  • That ICANN is not a regulator of content and should not make decisions based on content
  • That to reject dot-xxx would allow ICANN to act as a tool for censorship

Option 3 arguments

The arguments put forward by those advocating "option 3" are represented graphically below (most comments made multiple arguments; any arguments put forward by fewer than one percent of respondents not included).

Figures from the largest campaign ("Campaign J”) not included since it did not put forward an argument but simply stated that the IRP majority opinion was wrong.

More porn (39 percent)

Many commenters argued that the creation of a dot-xxx top-level domain would result in an increase in the amount of pornography available online.

"The establishment of a .XXX domain would increase, not decrease the spread of pornography on the Internet and thus cause even more harm and make ICANN complicit in that harm." (Patrick Trueman)

"Pornographers would simply expand to .XXX and maintain their current .COM sites, perhaps doubling the number of porn sites and doubling their menace to society." (Campaign C, 234 responses)

"This new domain would only increase the amount of pornography available on the Web, easing accessibility to hard core pornography to minors and adults alike." (Campaign E, 524 responses)

"A .xxx domain would increase the amount of pornography on the internet and make it much more easily available." (Nick Crowther)

Porn is damaging (38 percent)

Pornography has a damaging impact on society and individuals and can prove addictive, many of those in favour of "option 3" argued. A large number shared personal and professional insights into the negative impact pornography had had on their lives. Others put forward moral and religious arguments against pornography.

"Creating a .xxx domain is extremely harmful to the country. Pornography destroys people and simply creating a .xxx will not remove these sites from the .com and will create more problems. I have first hand witnessed the extremely destructive influence of this material." (Adrian Bennett)

"Pornography is a widespread, ever-growing crisis, polluting the minds of its viewers and negatively changing attitudes towards women and children. Please do NOT participate in the destruction of marriages, the abuse of children, and the demise of our culture." (Campaign E, 524 responses)

"Your descendants and mine, and our forefathers, would be so appalled.....this WAS NOT their intent in establishing the Bill of Rights. Not to mention, our society would be violating the 7th and 10th Commandments from Sovereign God himself!!!" (Becky Bentley)

"I am a concern [sic] parent and grandmother I strongly oppose the creation or expansion of any domain that promotes pornography. Emotional and psichological [sic] harm has been widely researched and daily we see the consequences in news. Rape and sex related crimes are higher than ever do the easy exposure to sex." (Anna Cruz)

False sense of safety (35 percent)

The creation of a dot-xxx top-level domain may lead parents to believe that their children cannot access pornography elsewhere on the Internet, such as at dot-com addresses, argued some commenters.

"The creation of a .xxx domain will make parents believe their children can not come across 'pornography' because there is an .xxx domain for this. This will endanger child safety giving a false sense of security as websites with adult content will stay out of it and people will be misled." (Bianca)

"Neither ICANN nor the company urging the establishment of this new domain are arguing that the .XXX domain would clean up the .COM domain and require all pornographers to move to .XXX." (Campaign C, 234 responses)

"Having a specific domain would tend to legitimise the internet pornography internet industry, but would not remove it from the .com domain, it could lure parents into a false sense of security as regards filtering just .xxx domains to block pornographic sites." (Stephen Madden)

.xxx will legitimize porn (25 percent)

The creation of a specific top-level domain for adult content would provide online legitimacy to damaging material, many commenters argued.

"I strongly encourage you not to create a dot-xxx domain for pornography. It would only serve to legitimize it by giving pornography it's own domain. I would prefer to see pornography stigmatized not encouraged!" (Gary & Monique Greer)

"I'd like to express my concern about the terrible outcome of this decision, which basically legitimize the porno industry because, this proposal will not protect children and families from Internet pornography and will likely lead to greater exposure, addiction and family breakdown." (Luis Guzman)

"Establishment of a dot-xxx domain would only serve to legitimize porn and spread an already epidemic scourge within our culture, resulting in addictions, family breakdowns, sexual promiscuity, and its resultant destruction (physically and emotionally) of lives and relationships." (Judy Nichols)

Labeling won't protect (25 percent)

ICM Registry's intention to require dot-xxx domains holders to label their websites as contained adult material will not prevent the appearance of adult material and could, conversely, make it easier for children (and adults) to find, argued many commenters.

"Since most families do not use effective filtering services, the .XXX domain would merely make hardcore pornography even easier to find for children seeking such material. Thus the argument that .XXX would benefit children by 'cleaning up the Internet' is without any basis in fact. (Patrick Trueman)

Will damage adult industry (13 percent)

Some in the adult industry argued against dot-xxx, saying it could damage their business by forcing them to buy dot-xxx domains to protect their brands and also open the door for regulation of their industry.

"As an affiliate program for the adult entertainment industry, my business' foundation is internet based. If ICM's application were granted and a .XXX sTLD were to be created it would negatively impact my business." (Campaign F, 155 responses)

"The ONLY reason someone would want to own this extension would be to earn money from registration fees. The new extension would force owners of .com domains to purchase the .xxx extensions in an attempt to protect their brand." (Richard Cohen)

Limit on free speech (12 percent)

Some in the adult industry — including the Free Speech Coalition (FSC) - believe that creating dot-xxx may later impinge on their free speech rights under the United States constitution if there are subsequent efforts to force adult content companies to only use dot-xxx domains. The issue of free speech is also raised in comments by those opposed to dot-xxx due to opposition of the adult industry, with many commenters arguing that free speech should not be used as a reason for approving dot-xxx.

".xxx is the gateway to internet censorship and defies net neutrality." (Necropolis Creations)

Idea only for profit (12 percent)

Both those opposed to pornography and adult industry commenters criticize the dot-xxx plan for profiting unfairly. In the case of pornography opponents, many believe that dot-xxx is making money immorally. The adult industry on the other hand is opposed to dot-xxx "cashing in" on the adult industry by charging a premium for domain names that they will need to purchase in order to protect their brands.

No support from industry (7 percent)

The main argument from the adult industry commenters against dot-xxx is that many in the industry itself do not support the creation of the top-level domain. As a result, many argue, dot-xxx does not meet the sponsorship requirements of the sTLD approval process.

"From the adult entertainment perspective, ICM has never engaged the actual community it professes to serve… ICM's claims of support from the sponsorship community seem wholly self-generated and self-serving." (Diane Duke)

"I ask that ICANN continue to consider the widespread opposition of the sponsored community in any further decisions concerning a .XXX sTLD." (Campaign D, 104 responses)

"It is imperative that ICANN consider the widespread opposition from the adult entertainment community to a .XXX sTLD as it makes its decision." (Campaign F, 155 responses)

"I am part of the adult online community (softcore) and I assure you we VIRTUALLY TO A MAN oppose .xxx. I cannot think of ANYONE who is actually in favor of it." (James Treadwell)

"The .XXX sponsor, ICM, never satisfied the sponsorship requirements and criteria for a sponsored Top Level Domain." (Campaign I, 132 responses)

Force porn into one space (1 percent)

There were concerns from both the adult industry commenters and anti-pornography Christian groups that dot-xxx would cause online pornography to be forced into a single space on the Internet. The adult industry expressed the concern that this would led to efforts to impose rules and legislation; some Christian commenters were concerned that it would cause people to believe that pornography was under control and so cause them to reduce their vigilance against it.

Other arguments

A number of other arguments for choosing option 3 were put forward, including:

  • They couldn't see the point in having a dot-xxx top-level domain, especially if it wasn't compulsory for all online content to fit within it
  • It could cause confusion
  • A different name — such as .kids or .fam — would be more effective at protecting children from online pornography
  • The plans for ICM Registry's not-for-profit sponsoring organization IFFOR (which would draw up the policies for dot-xxx) are vague
  • Adult websites already self-label
  • It is not clear how ICM Registry will decide who is in the adult industry and who is not

Responses by region


As with previous discussions over the dot-xxx application, there was some press interest in the comment period, mostly by the technology press.

Two types of articles appeared: one pointing out that pressure was growing on ICANN to approve dot-xxx after its had lost an independent review over its previous decision to reject the application; and a second asking a broader question over whether readers thought the new top-level domain would be a good idea.

Broadly the consensus from the press was that dot-xxx was coming and may even be a good idea.

The BBC quoted ICM Registry's chairman as being frustrated with the process and said ICANN has been "delaying its vote" on the issue. Others were more aggressive. The Register suggested that ICANN was trying to "weasel its way out of approving the porn-only domain”; while Silicon Republic said the issue puts a "spotlight on ICANN's accountability”.

CircleID published a highly critical post of ICANN in which the organization was accused of an "endless series of increasingly lame and unpersuasive justifications to excuse not following their own rules and process, and never admitting that's what they're doing" . Other stories in this vein were published by V3.co.uk, PC Magazine and The Domains.

Two outlets have closely followed the whole comment period. DomainIncite has written a range of stories including a delay in closing the forum, responses from the Free Speech Coalition, the campaigns directed by US Christian organizations, and ICM Registry's responses to both; and adult industry news site Xbiz covered the Christian groups' campaign, FSC's campaign, ICM's response and Patrick Trueman's US tour.

Among the question-stories was Tech.blorge's Should all porn be moved to .xxx domain? (Answer: Yes); GeekSugar's poll Do You Agree With an .xxx Domain For Porn Sites? (Answer: 86 percent say Yes); ZDNet's Should the Internet have a .XXX TLD for porn? (Answer: Yes); and Xbiz's How much do you support .XXX? (Answer: 69 percent say 'I love it and will buy .xxx domains').

And finally there were the more decided articles Give Porn Its Place and The Web Doesn't Need .xxx Porn Domain, which were for and against dot-xxx respectively.


With such a large response rate (nearly 13,000 comments) it can be hard to make anything but broad generalizations about the input.

However, with 97 percent of responses coming from one of 11 online campaigns it becomes much easier to discern patterns.

What is clear from the comments is that the ICANN community, the affected parties and the larger external community all wish to bring the issue to a close after more than five years of debate and discussion.

A compromise option 2 received not a single vote of support. Likewise, 98 percent of those supporting "option 1" to accept the IRP Declaration in full stressed the desire to reach resolution quickly, with more than three-quarters explicitly rejecting additional procedural steps were the Board to go with that option.

ICM Registry argued forcefully that ICANN should approve a contract with it without further delay. As the prevailing party in a two-year review independent review process of its 2007 rejection, its position is understandable.

However, that position is restated by many in the ICANN community. The only two of ICANN's Supporting Organization and Advisory Committees to put in formal responses sided with ICM Registry, with one stating bluntly that the Board should approve the dot-xxx contract as soon as possible.

Close followers of ICANN have also publicly stated that they feel the organization has to accept the IRP Declaration in full in order to demonstrate its commitment to the broader issue of accountability.

That view is not shared by some sections of the adult industry and by a number of US Christian groups who have campaigning vigorously for ICANN to drop all plans to create a dot-xxx top-level domain once and for all.

The same groups that sent thousands of emails to the previous comment periods covering dot-xxx have repeated their call for the ICANN Board to:

a) consider the moral implications of approving a piece of online real estate designed specifically for pornography, and
b) recognize that a significant proportion of what should be dot-xxx's customers base are opposed to its creation

The fact that this latest comment period is the largest in ICANN's history, it is difficult to ignore the reality that a very large number of people have felt sufficiently compelled to inform ICANN that they feel the organization is making a mistake. Although how much many of those respondents understand the complexities of the situation is debatable given the stock-responses, small timeframe and campaign approach taken.

While weighing the impact of numbers, it may also be worth considering the existence of an online cause that promotes the idea of a dot-xxx top-level domain. The "Petition to change porn sites to have a dot-xxx URL address ending to protect children" has over 290,000 members.

The commitment and views of those opposing dot-xxx are beyond question. However, from the procedural perspective there remains the fact that these same views were raised years earlier and contributed to a decision by the ICANN Board to reject the dot-xxx application in 2007.

That decision was questioned through ICANN's own independent review process, and itself rejected by a majority decision in February this year.

In that respect, complaints previously leveled at the dot-xxx application may be considered to have formed part of the Independent Review Process itself. And while they no doubt continue to resonate with the groups involved, ICANN as an organization has already considered them twice over.

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