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XXX domain names go live

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The first .xxx web addresses have gone live on the internet, almost 11 years after the extension was first proposed.

On Friday, the porn-only address was added to the domain name system's root servers – through a convoluted process that involves box-ticking from domain overseer ICANN, the US Department of Commerce, and VeriSign – and the first .xxx domain names started working around midnight.

Right now, surfers can visit websites such as porn.xxx and sex.xxx, both of which are – for now – place-holders with safe-for-work generic content.

The company contracted to run the domain registry, ICM Registry, has also moved its corporate web site to icm.xxx and icmregistry.xxx.

ICM currently plans to offer three "sunrise periods", during which trademark holders can protect their brands and and porn webmasters can secure their .xxx domains, starting as early as September. General availability could arrive as soon as November.

It's also possible that certain "Founder" sites at premium domains could go live in as little as a few weeks from now. ICM may also create directory sites at certain generic domains, such as porn.xxx, to drive traffic to its customers' sites.

The .xxx domain has been subject to intense controversy over the last decade. Most recently, ICANN was forced for the first time in its history to overrule the advice of national governments, some of which vehemently objected, in order to approve ICM's contract.

To a large extent ICANN's hands were tied by its complex procedures. Its board of directors had the choice to approve .xxx, risking the ire of governments, or to risk appearing unaccountable by ignoring the majority decision of an Independent Review Panel, which ruled last year that ICANN broke its own bylaws when it tried to reject the domain in 2007, having already approved it in 2005.

Over the seemingly interminable series of ICANN public comment periods that .xxx has been subjected to over the years, it has attracted outrage from religious groups, opposed to pornography in general, and also pornographers, many of whom believe .xxx could lead to censorship.

The Free Speech Coalition, a California-based porn trade group, has led the charge against .xxx, and is currently calling for a boycott of its services.

Its worry that .xxx could be blocked at national borders by conservative governments appears to have been well-founded. India and Saudi Arabia have already reportedly indicated that they will block the entire .xxx namespace.

Another of the FSC's many concerns is the high price ICM plans to charge. The retail price of a .xxx domain is likely to be north of $70 per year, with $60 going to the registry and its sponsoring organization. This has outraged many porn webmasters, accustomed to .com fees of around $10 per year.

Nevertheless, ICM claims to have received "pre-reservations" for roughly 600,000 unique domain names, making .xxx potentially a $30 million business in its first year. ICANN will take a $2 kickback from every domain sold.

ICM, funded largely by its president, Stuart Lawley, has invested close to $20 million in pushing .xxx through the ICANN process over the last several years, much of it spent of legal fees.

Lawley today commented: "It's been emotional." ®

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