Welcome to the Wacky World of Dirtyword.com

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Get used to it, congressmen: on the Web, free speech isn't a dirty word, and dirty words are free speech. When some members of the House Judiciary Committee -– yes, that House Judiciary Committee -– got together Wednesday for a subcommittee hearing, they were supposed to talk about cybersquatting-for-profit and other online intellectual-property tangles. But true to form, the distinguished boys and girls who spent most of last year arguing about oral sex couldn’t keep their minds out of the gutter, and most of the day was spent debating a new web phenomenon: dirty domain names.

The situation started with the de-monopolization of the Net’s name game. Network Solutions, the company that hands out those .com and .net web addresses, needed some competition, and this spring, five companies were turned loose in the void on a trial basis. So far, so good. Trouble is, Network Solutions, which is still in charge of the overall system, decided not to extend its own no-dirty-words policy to its five new peers, throwing the doors open to a Carlinized cyberspace that had the Judiciary members up in arms Wednesday. It may have been a nifty business ploy –- if Network Solutions can keep its competitors busy registering the ----.coms and the &%$#!%.coms, its monopoly on addresses in the more respectable cyberhoods just might remain intact. The company did run the plan by the Commerce Department –- which shrugged and pointed to the First Amendment –- but this is just the kind of cover-the-children’s-eyes issue that congressmen love. Or at least argue about.