The Internet has long had www.smut.com, www.xxx.com and www.babes.com, but when it comes to naming the sites that house the network's raunchy content, the English language's most explicit words long have been out of bounds.
Not anymore. Get ready for Web site names with lots of words unfit to print here.
Network Solutions Inc., the Herndon firm that has been told by the government to open its business of registering Internet addresses to competition, has decided that it will not prevent its new rivals from selling addresses with vulgarities.
Since 1996, Network Solutions (NSI) has adhered to the Federal Communication Commission's decency standards for broadcasters -- which ban the proverbial Seven Dirty Words -- in accepting Internet address registrations. Any combination of those words got the delete key.
But as the network has become more global and decentralized, NSI and the Commerce Department, which is responsible for the network's technical management, have decided to let each firm that assigns addresses set its own decency policies. That means NSI can -- and still will -- keep its ban, but other firms don't have to adhere to it.
One such competitor, California-based Net Wizards Inc., already has registered "many thousands" of such addresses, said Bill Rockefeller, the company's vice president.
"It's not our position to censor people," Rockefeller said. "We shouldn't be given that power."
Rockefeller said his firm has gotten "absolutely huge demand" for explicit addresses. Although he would not divulge specific figures, he said the company has been registering several thousand addresses a day for the past week, about 75 percent of which would have been banned under the old rules.
NSI officials said the previous prohibition was impractical with a global network. "It's a very tricky issue," said NSI spokesman Christopher Clough. "Something that we find offensive in the United States may be perfectly innocuous in other cultures, and vice versa."
Advocates of explicit names praised the move, voicing arguments similar to NSI's. "This is a global registry, it's not just the United States," said Gary Cohn, an Internet entrepreneur in the Chicago area who is trying to get an address that includes an obscene word. "It's just a series of letters and numbers. It's ridiculous to ban some."
The change could be a boon for the pornography industry, which already is reaping millions from offering adult-oriented photographs, video clips and chat services over the global network.
Activists who believe pornographic material is too easily available to children over the Internet have criticized the change. Industry specialists, however, expect that software used by many parents to prevent their children from accessing adult content will block new sites with explicit names.
Some NSI competitors questioned the timing of the company's decision, suggesting that it was designed to portray the transition to a competitive address-registration process as tricky and questionable. NSI is currently negotiating terms of a transition to competition with the government and a new nonprofit corporation set up to oversee the process.
"It provides them with an opportunity to put a bad light on the competitive process," said Ken Stubbs, chairman of the executive committee of the Council of Internet Registrars, who represents a consortium of competitors.
Clough said the decision was unrelated to the current negotiations and instead was instituted because five firms already have begun to register addresses on a trial basis.