Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are considering having the government establish a “child-friendly” internet domain, because the international body that governs domain names has refused to create a suffix for child-appropriate content. Opponents of the measure worry about giving the U.S. government power to influence what is deemed “appropriate” for children using the internet around the world.

The bill originally called for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to create a “.kids” domain, which would join other suffixes such as “.com” and “.org” found at the end of web addresses.

But the measure was amended Nov. 1 to create a “.kids.us” space, which would be overseen by the federal government.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce Nancy Victory told the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet that Japan, China, and some European countries had objected to the original legislation, saying the United States should not establish guidelines for the World Wide Web.

“Unilateral action by the United States to create an international ‘dot kids’ domain is at odds with the global nature of the internet and a domain name system,” Victory said.

Panel Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., said the change makes it more likely the plan will be adopted.

“My view is that if we were to rely on [ICANN] to get its act together to implement a ‘dot-kids,’ my young kids would be parents perhaps by the time it got done, if at all,” he said.

The internet naming organization’s board voted against the .kids suffix last November amid concerns about who would set the standards for child-appropriate material.

The House bill says that only sites with material deemed appropriate for children under 13 could get a “.kids.us” suffix. Participation would be voluntary and the sites would be continuously monitored. A parent or school administrator could restrict a child’s computer so it could visit only those sites.

The bill would establish an independent board that would set criteria for use of “.kids.us.” It also would require that the domain be publicized to parents.

Rob Courtney, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology, said putting “.kids” under the “.us” domain is an improvement. But he said his organization is still concerned about who will be responsible for monitoring, enforcing, and funding the effort and about what standards will be used.

“What a family in Peoria, Illinois, thinks is appropriate is likely to be different than a family in New York or San Francisco,” he said.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., a sponsor of the bill, said because the use and registration of “.kids.us” space would be voluntary, there is no effort by the government to restrict access or otherwise infringe on civil liberties.

“This proposal simply creates an area where healthy speech for children can exist, and inappropriate speech is free to exist anywhere else,” Markey said.

An internet startup, New.net, has been offering “.kid” names, along with several other unsanctioned suffixes such as “.sport,” “.xxx,” and “.travel.” But sites with the alternative names can only be viewed by using certain service providers or making adjustments to computer settings.

The Commerce Department has authority to issue “.us” web space. The department has given NeuStar Inc. a contract to manage the space.

Victory said the Bush administration supports the goals of establishing a kid-safe domain, but she said it might violate the NeuStar contract. Lawmakers on the subcommittee said they were frustrated that the department is not being cooperative and said they would give it authority to issue “.kids.us” space.

“As a parent, I’m not interested in excuses,” Upton told Victory. “I just want it done.”

Links:
House Energy and Commerce Committee
http://energycommerce.house.gov

ICANN
http://www.icann.org

Center for Democracy and Technology
http://www.cdt.org

NeuStar
http://www.neustar.com