WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- The House Energy and Commerce Committee, in attempting to provide parents with a "cyberspace sanctuary" for their children, instead approved legislation Wednesday that might also create a domain devoid of many features that make the Internet useful.
By a unanimous voice vote, the committee sent H.R. 3833, the .Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002, to the full House.
The bill would require creation of a .kids.us domain on the Internet to help parents monitor their children's activities, said the measure's co-sponsors, Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and John Shimkus, R-Ill.
"The domain will be a cyberspace sanctuary for content suitable to children under the age of 13, and will be devoid of content that is harmful to minors," Markey told the committee.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said the bill would detour children around "a sea of pornography."
"Children should not have to wander through a red-light district to get to their school or playground in the physical world, and the Internet should be no different," Dingell said.
If the bill becomes law, the company in charge of the .us country code, NeuStar, would create the domain and set up guidelines for acceptable content. The effort would be overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which would have to require NeuStar to comply with the bill in order to renew its contract.
Earlier versions of the bill would have attempted to force the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, an international organization in charge of domain-name issues, to create a .kids domain equal to today's familiar .com and .org addresses. Dingell and others, including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., said free speech and other concerns prompted the current approach.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., the committee chairman, noted use of the domain would be voluntary for both Web site operators and visitors, thereby removing any First Amendment concerns. The bill also would allow NTIA to shut the domain down if it failed to perform properly.
Other provisions, however, could greatly reduce the attractiveness of sites within the domain, regardless of how kid-friendly they might be. For instance, site operators would be prohibited from offering "two-way interactive and multiuser services" in the domain, unless they certified the services would not compromise kids' safety or security.
Committee members said the measure is meant to keep children away from pedophiles and other predators. However, since current technology cannot prevent an adult from masquerading as a child, certifying a service's safety would be nearly impossible -- the provision's real-world effect would eliminate chat, instant messaging and e-mail from .kids.us addresses.
Another of the bill's details would prevent sites from including links to addresses outside the domain. As with the chat provision, lawmakers said this would ensure kids stay inside the safe area.
Today's Web ads, however, are simply links using animation and other attractions to encourage users to click on them. Unless advertisers are willing to create additional, kid-friendly copies of their sites inside the domain, they will not be able to buy .kids space for their commercials to appear before the very marketable under-13 audience. Even if the companies duplicate their operations, the two-way service provision could severely limit their ability to conduct commerce in the safe area.
With these limitations, NeuStar could face a very difficult time finding paying customers to populate the domain, turning a normally expensive proposition into a money-losing operation.
After the domain's first year of operation, the bill would potentially force NeuStar to run the domain at a loss for a year and a half before NTIA could open a bidding process to find another operator.