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The .XXX Fiasco is Almost Over

John Levine

At Friday's meeting of the ICANN board in Brussels, they voted, probably for the last time, to approve the 2004 application for the .XXX domain.

Purely on the merits, there is of course no need for a top level domain for porn. This isn't about the merits, this is about whether ICANN follows its own rules. Despite overheated press reports, .XXX will not make porn any more available online than it already is (how could it?), there is no chance of all porn being forced into .XXX (that's a non-starter under US law), and .XXX will have no effect on the net other than perhaps being a place to put legal but socially marginal porn far away from any accidental visitors.

Back in 2004 ICANN had a round of applications for new TLDs, of which they received ten, including one for .XXX from a company called ICM. The applicant carefully followed every rule, dotted every i, and crossed every t. Two of the applications were dropped at that point, and ICANN could at that point have easily made .XXX go away, but they didn't. The process involved outside consultants evaluating the feasability and support for the proposed domain, the porn industry has never been more than lukewarm about .XXX, and ICANN could easily have said they didn't have community support. Nonetheless, after the first stage of the process, ICANN agreed that ICM had met the requirements for a new TLD.

In 2005 there was a large and rather poorly informed political foofarrah about the evils of online porn, involving Karl Rove and some rightwing religious allies of the Bush administration putting pressure on ICANN to stop .XXX. At that point ICANN could have said, golly, due to the large amount of community opposition we're turning them down and to show we're sorry, we'll refund ICM's application fee, and there would have been grumbling but that would have been the end of it. But they didn't do that, either, the ICANN board just reversed itself without any credible explanation or justification.

Since then, ICANN has been coming up with one transparently bogus excuse after another for the past five years to stall .XXX, hoping the ICM will give up, despite the fact that ICANN's own policies clearly say that ICM has done everything required and ICANN themselves have approved their application. Earlier this year, an external review panel said that ICM is right and ICANN is wrong, and ICANN still came up with a few more nonsense excuses.

ICANN is now in a pickle, because there are two things they're scared of, lawsuits they might lose, and pressure from the US government, and .XXX offers both. If ICANN said no again, ICM would likely sue. Regardless of whether the suit succeeded, ICM would surely depose the board members and senior staff, which would, to put it mildly, document some rather embarassing dirt. The government may lean on them again, or more likely they might decide they have bigger fish to fry, particularly since the political opponents of .XXX are not allies of the current US administration.

Most likely, .XXX will finally get added, there will be another poorly informed political foofarrah rehashing the same old arguments, and then everyone will forget about it since it'll get about two dozen live registrations, and several thousand inactive defensive ones like DISNEY.XXX.

Just after the vote, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom said:

While I accept the contribution to ICANN's accountability and transparency provided by the existence and the use of the independent panel review process, I am nonetheless concerned about the determination by two of the three panelists that the ICANN board should not use business judgment in the conduct of its affairs.

In other words, Beckstrom continues the ICANN tradition that all of ICANN's rules and processes are just for show, and they should ignore them if he doesn't like the outcome. For this they pay him a million dollars a year?

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker. More blog posts from John Levine can also be read here.

Related topics: Domain Names, Registry Services, ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains

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I am not convinced really, the ruling John Briscoe  –  Jun 27, 2010 1:59 AM PDT

I am not convinced really, the ruling was non binding, the ICANN did not have to follow it, they had to do what is the interest of the people and the internet not just trying to save face.

At this time and age only ICM has any interest on .xxx, this will be another .aero .jobs TLD, full of defensive registrations, a money maker for ICM, an unnecessary business expense for all the rest.

Nobody is going to give up their .com and move to a .xxx, ridiculous.

I'm glad that the board passed the Michele Neylon  –  Jun 29, 2010 1:15 PM PDT

I'm glad that the board passed the vote, but I am also disturbed by Rod Beckstrom's comments.

Get it over already Phillip Hallam-Baker  –  Jul 01, 2010 6:40 AM PDT

When this type of stalemate is created, the only possible outcome is the one that will end the stalemate.

Even if ICM withdrew there would be another .xxx proposal, and another, and another. At various times we have been having proposals for .xxx from anti-porn crusaders trying to impose censorship and porn producers trying to advertise product.

At root the problem is that the hierarchy of domains is a nonsense. There never was a need for .com at all. Or the country code domains. The DNS could have been designed to work perfectly well with a single, undifferentiated top level domain. There would still be a need for hierarchy below that point and there would be a need for hierarchical delegation of management functions. But the top level hierarchy does not add value.

If we could look at the DNS in 100 years time I am sure that the upper hierarchy will be completely gone. We are already starting to see the root zone being widened with it being opened up to non-registrar entries. Over time the processes will be streamlined and the costs reduced to the point that pretty much every major brand has a root zone entry. At some point a tipping point will be reached and the root will replace .com.

The open question though is where ICANN will be in all of this. A lot of the problems ICANN was formed to address were created by the broken upper level hierarchy.

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