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ICANN Approves .cat, Delays .xxx

The board of directors for the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) departed from the norm with its approval of the .cat domain extension, officials announced Thursday evening.

The board also deferred a decision on the highly controversial sex domain, .xxx, stating concerns over draft compliance and process terms.

The establishment of the .cat sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) is a departure for ICANN. The TLDs approved thus far fall largely under commercial, professional or nationalistic organizations like .com, .uk, .jobs or .biz.

.Cat, on the other hand, is a domain space reserved for members of the Catalan ethnic group. According to Fundacio puntCAT, the authors of the .cat bid, those identifying with the Catalan language and culture want their own domain on the Internet.

"We believe, for example, that if cooperatives, the aeronautical industry or museums have been recognized as communities with their domain on the Internet, the Catalan language and culture have a very important basis for having a .cat domain," the organization's Web site states.

The Catalan language is understood by as many as 12 million people located in portions of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, according to Wikipedia.

As policy makers for .cat, Associacio puntCAT can determine who and what goes on their domain extension. That's different than policies created for generic TLDs (gTLD) like .com or .net, which are overseen by ICANN.

Ross Rader, director of research and innovation at registrar Tucows, said that by approving .cat for Catalans, ICANN has just excluded any other group of people who would want to use .cat -- cat lovers and Caterpillar , the heavy machinery company, are just a few examples, he said.

"I find the whole notion of sponsored TLDs to be completely contrary to everything that ICANN stands for," he said. "These sponsored TLDs are all about exclusion and they really have no place in today's open Internet."

Meanwhile, final ratification of the controversial .xxx sTLD is bogged down. The ICANN board of directors announced in June they would begin technical and commercial negotiations with ICM Registry to launch the domain extension.

The decision was immediately met with an outcry from conservatives in the U.S. and abroad concerned about an Internet red-light district.

Michael Gallagher, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC), sent an open letter to Vint Cerf, ICANN chairman, urging the organization to delay final approval of .xxx.

"The [DOC] has received nearly 6,000 letters and emails from individuals expressing concern about the impact of pornography on families and children and opposing the creation of a new top-level domain devoted to adult content," his letter stated.

"Given the extent of the negative reaction, I request that the Board will provide a proper process and adequate additional time for these concerns to be voiced and addressed before any additional action takes place on this issue."

ICANN, originally scheduled to become a self-regulating Internet organization , falls under DOC authority.

So perhaps it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that ICANN directors decided to delay the final approval of .xxx at a board meeting Thursday.

"The board directed ICANN staff to negotiate additional contractual provisions requiring development and implementation of policies consistent with ICM Registry's application," an ICANN statement read. "The Board will consider the outcome of these negotiations at some future date."