PluggedIn: Not much to do in kids' online domain
By Andy Sullivan
There's not much for kids to do in the "online playground" set up by
the U.S. government more than two years ago.
They can go bowling with SpongeBob Squarepants at www.nick.kids.us,
plunk a piano keyboard at www.music.kids.us, and learn about mummies
at www.mummies.kids.us. There are fun facts about the solar system at
www.space.kids.us and motorcycles at www.knex.kids.us.
Beyond that there's only 16 more Web sites in the ".kids.us" Internet
domain, a letdown to those who had hoped that it would host enough
material so that kids wouldn't have to navigate the unprotected wilds
of the Internet at large.
"It's disappointing, I wish it was fully deployed," said Illinois
Republican Rep. John Shimkus, who sponsored the bill that set up the
domain in 2002.
But while Congress and administrator NeuStar Inc. set plenty of
restrictions to keep online predators and inappropriate content out of
the .kids.us domain, they didn't provide many incentives to bring Web
sites in, Internet experts say.
"You're dealing with a commercial venture in some instances, and with
nonprofits that might not have the extra money," said Donna Rice
Hughes, president of the online child safety group Enough is Enough.
Congress turned to the idea of a special Internet domain for children
under 13 after several attempts to ban or segregate online pornography
failed in court in the late 1990s.
Lawmakers decided it would be easier to set up a .kids domain within
the United States' own .us domain rather than work through the
international nonprofit body that oversees top-level domains like .com
In theory, parents could adjust their childrens' Web browser so they
could only view Web sites within the .kids.us domain, making it easy
to avoid objectionable content.
Web sites with a .kids.us address can't contain pornography, violence,
or references to drugs and alcohol. Message boards, chat services and
other interactive features are also prohibited from setting up shop
unless the operators can promise that kids won't be exposed to
All material must pass a content review before it is posted, and
.kids.us sites can't link to sites outside the domain.
The online real estate doesn't come cheap. Users must pay an annual
fee of roughly $150 to register the name, and the content review costs
an additional $250 per year. Those looking for a .com name, by
contrast, can pay as little as $7 per year.
These restrictions are compounded by a 1998 privacy law that prevents
Web sites from collecting personal information about children without
their parents' consent.
"Why would any kids' site pay $300 to register in a place that has
nothing really driving anyone to it and special liability for the
sites themselves?" said Parry Aftab, a New York lawyer and activist
who works on online child-safety issues.
More than 1,700 .kids.us names were reserved after the domain was
opened for registration in June 2003, but two years later only 21 Web
sites are up and running.
"I don't think we're disappointed, certainly the kids.us space is
serving a valuable need," said Keith Drazek, NeuStar's manager for
industrial and government relations.
Drazek said the registration fee is set by retail domain-name sellers,
and he declined to say what NeuStar charges as a wholesale price. The
content-review process takes time and effort as well, he said.
Only six Web sites or so have been rejected because of inappropriate
content, said Bob Dahstrom, chief executive of Kidsnet Inc., the
company that handles the content review.
"We'd be happy to review more," he said.
John Marshall University law professor David Sorkin, whose law.kids.us
site was rejected because it contained a Supreme Court opinion that
contained profanity, said the lack of content in the domain has
stymied its growth.
"It's sort of a chicken-and-egg problem, I suppose," he said.
Lackluster promotion hasn't helped either, Aftab and Rice Hughes said.
NeuStar should lower its prices and give away domain names to
nonprofit groups to encourage more content, they said.
NeuStar has produced an informational brochure and participated in a
public forum last July, Drazek said, and the company can't give away
domain names on its own.
Shimkus said he's still trying to raise awareness about the domain but
he can understand why the response has been tepid.
"I never want to make enemies of people who may see the light, and I
don't think (the restrictions) are onerous. But what I do think it
does is that if they have a similar dot-com site where they can market
goods, they'd rather be there," he said.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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