The Bush administration is flashing a yellow light at plans to offer a red-light district on the Internet.
Five years after a separate space was first proposed to deal with the huge amount of traffic to pornography websites, the rollout of the proposed .xxx domain was delayed Tuesday after a top Commerce Department official said he had received 6,000 letters and e-mails opposing the plan.
Michael D. Gallagher, assistant secretary of communications and information at the Commerce Department, called the volume of correspondence “unprecedented” and urged the organization that assigns Internet domain names to postpone the launch of the .xxx address.
The domain proposed by ICM Registry would require pornographic websites to follow certain guidelines, such as not advertising through unsolicited commercial e-mail or marketing to children.
Supporters say a porn-only domain could make it easier for parents to block access to adult entertainment websites on children’s computers, and some say it could set the stage for virtual “zoning laws” requiring all pornographic websites to abandon the .com domain for .xxx.
But conservative groups and representatives of the adult entertainment industry oppose a .xxx domain. They have different reasons but agree on one thing: It wouldn’t do anything to prevent unwanted sexy e-mail or keep kids away from adult sites.
“No children are safeguarded,” said Patrick Trueman, senior legal counsel for the Family Research Council, which is urging federal officials to support obscenity laws and prosecute more online pornographers. “It just means pornographers get their own domain in addition to .com.”
Sex has long been one of the Internet’s top draws. According to ComScore Media Metrix, more pages were viewed on adult sites in July than on search engines or news sites.
The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit organization that oversees Internet domain names, gave tentative approval to .xxx on June 1 and intended this week to sign a contract to have Jupiter, Fla.-based ICM Registry oversee the domain.
Gallagher expressed his concerns to ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf in a letter last week. An ICANN spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Complaints grew louder as the launch approached.
Other countries have voiced concerns about dedicating a portion of the Internet for pornographers. Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi, chairman of ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, said in a letter to the organization’s board last week that “a strong sense of discomfort” exists among committee members representing countries that he did not name.
ICM executives said they were disappointed by the last-minute criticism of a plan that had been debated openly for 18 months. “We are, to say the very least, disappointed that concerns that should have been raised and addressed weeks and months ago are being raised in the final days,” ICM Registry Chairman Stuart Lawley wrote to Paul Twomey, chief executive of Marina del Rey-based ICANN.
Bret Fausett, an intellectual property lawyer in Los Angeles who sits on some ICANN committees, said the .xxx domain could allow Congress to create laws for the Internet, such as those that prohibit adult stores near schools.
“People who didn’t understand the proposal thought it was horrible because it would actually promote the acceptability and spread of pornography,” he said. “In fact, it was intended to do just the opposite.”
For the Free Speech Coalition, the adult entertainment industry’s trade association, mandatory inclusion is the “greatest concern regarding .xxx,” said Tom Hymes, the group’s communications director.
ICM Registry founder Jason Hendeles said the company was committed to ensuring that using .xxx was voluntary, not mandatory, for adult entertainment sites.
“The existence of adult material online, it’s not something that can be ignored,” he said. “Our hope is that by being responsible there will be benefits.”