At a federal hearing May 6, members of Congress urged organizers of the new “.kids.us” internet domain to come up with incentives that would motivate businesses and other organizations to build content for the kid-friendly web space, which so far has drawn a disappointing response.

After nearly a year of operation, only 13 web sites exist on the dot-kids domain, which was created by the Dot-Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002. The law promised to carve out some child-friendly territory within America’s “.us” internet domain, where children under the age of 13 could work, play, and surf without being subjected to online marketing or inappropriate content such as pornography, gambling, and other adult fare.

But the initiative will be successful only if more children’s and educational content providers contribute, lawmakers noted.

“This is just pitiful,” said Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif. “I mean, we have to hurry this along a little bit.”

NeuStar Inc., the company tapped by the U.S. Department of Commerce to launch and operate the domain, reported that 1,700 entities have registered for web sites under the domain.

Of these registered addresses, about 300 appear to be owned by “cyber squatters,” or individuals who buy internet addresses and resell them for higher prices, and 1,400 appear to have been bought by legitimate organizations that could create content, a NeuStar official said.

NeuStar is charged with publicizing “.kids.us” to parents, educators, and content providers. Promotional initiatives to date have included letters to state officials encouraging them to get schools and parents to use the domain, as well as a forum scheduled for this summer.

“We are hopeful that many companies will create additional content for the space,” said Michael D. Gallagher, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

But “much still needs to be done to realize the full potential of this domain,” Gallagher added.

The law’s sponsor, Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., recognized the difficulty some organizations might have in establishing a web site in the dot-kids domain by sharing his own experience. “We still don’t have a dot-kids web site for our stuff,” Shimkus said, adding that his staff would need to purchase a separate server and meet the domain’s requirements.

The cost of building a web site for the new domain is a “significant hurdle,” acknowledged Cynthia Johanson, senior vice president of interactive education for the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), which recently added a version of its PBS Kids web site to the dot-kids domain.

The nonprofit PBS already maintains a content-rich, kid-friendly web site that receives more than 330 million hits per month.

For commercial companies, the new domain offers few financial incentives, because companies cannot collect personal information and marketing to children is discouraged, said Teri Schroeder, chief executive and program director for I-SAFE America Inc.

But members of Congress are still hopeful that .kids.us will be successful.

“Failure is not an option,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who compared the domain to the kids section of a library: “Dot-kids is also a place where kids can play and learn online without worrying about predators.”

Adults and children alike encounter inappropriate content on the web. “Dot-kids, in its conception, can help solve this problem, allowing kids to surf safely and independently,” Cox said. “We need to find a way to get organizations to register and make web sites in this domain.”

Links:

Dot-kids domain
http://www.kids.us

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

NeuStar Inc.
http://www.neustar.com