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NEAL CONAN, host:

A plan that creates the domain suffix of .xxx to be used by sexually explicit Web sites may create a virtual red-light district. The Internet's main oversight body, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, approved the .xxx suffix yesterday. That's a reversal of ICANN's original rejection of the domain suffix in the year 2000. ICANN predicts that adult sites could begin purchasing the addresses as early as this fall or winter. Declan McCullagh is chief political correspondent for CNET News. He's been following this story for over a year, and he's with us here today in Studio 3A.

Nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. DECLAN McCULLAGH (CNET News): Thank you. My pleasure.

CONAN: What does the creation of this domain mean? Is pornography going to be forced to the xxx sites?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, that's the big question. Adult Webmasters have put a lot of time and effort into building a brand around .com and so it seems unlikely that--if they can do this voluntarily--that is, unless forced--that they're going to keep that and also get a .xxx suffix as well, and both pointing to the same Web site. The interesting thing is going to be whether or not governments are going to start mandating that. The US may not; others may.

CONAN: As we mentioned, ICANN rejected this proposal just five years ago. Why did they change their mind now?

Mr. McCULLAGH: I think two things. The first is that the first round of domains were pretty modest: .biz, .info--and that they didn't want to approve too many domains considering this was the first time that domains were added in decades up from the original .com, .org and so on. And so the second time around they're going to take a little bit more risks.

But the other answer to your question is the first time when they said no to .xxx they got some push back from Capitol Hill. You had some politicians--Senator Lieberman was one of them--who said, `This is outrageous; we need a place where pornographers can ply their trade and we can block this off from our kids' computers.'

CONAN: So parental controls might be an advantage to this.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Exactly. If you think about it this way, it's sort of a self-rating system and that if pornographers are going to use this, then, well, it's pretty easy to program computers to say I'm not going to go there.

CONAN: Are there rules regarding content on xxx sites?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, when I talked to the people who were setting this up, they said pretty much anything goes except child pornography.

CONAN: Could you be thrown off for being not pornographic enough?

Mr. McCULLAGH: I think they'll be happy to take your money and let you do whatever you like.

CONAN: Well, part of the xxx proposal is that it would more easily allow people to filter out pornography from other Web content. Again, one of the things we consistently hear about is good idea, technologically ha ha ha.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, it's--if you had pornography or sexually explicit material just in .xxx that would be one thing, but once you spend so much time and effort on a .com you're probably going to keep that. The interesting thing is going to be whether sites like--or sorry, countries like Singapore or Saudi Arabia--those that may not have this First Amendment tradition that we have--say, `We're going to block the national level all .xxx sites,' and so then you have to conclude that if American sex sites want to market to these countries they're going to keep their .com as well.

CONAN: I wonder, as you mention, they did expand five years ago the number of possible sites with suffixes like .biz and .tv. How are those working out? Are people using them?

Mr. McCULLAGH: No, the interesting thing is that they're really not in heavy use. I mean, if you--look at it: .biz, .info--I mean, most of the mail I get from those types of sites is spam; .com is still the premier real estate of the Internet, and I think it's likely to stay that way for a while.

CONAN: And obviously, you have non-profit sites as well: org and edu and those sorts of things.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Exactly, and those are part of the original top-level domains decades ago.

CONAN: Is there a push for more kinds of domain names?

Mr. McCULLAGH: Well, ICANN, which, is the non-profit group in California that's sort of overseeing this process--they have a contract with the US government to do this--is considering a few more: .jobs and .tel are some of them; .mobi, and I think we're going to see rounds and rounds of this, but it's going to take a while. They're not going to move that quickly.

CONAN: So it might be another five years before they expand it again?

Mr. McCULLAGH: A year or two at least.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much.

Mr. McCULLAGH: Thank you.

CONAN: Declan McCullagh is chief political correspondent for CNET News. He's been covering domain names for as long as domain names have been around.

Thanks for being with us here today in Studio 3A.

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