The agency that controls Internet addresses said Friday it will consider adding the .xxx suffix for pornography to the list that people and companies can pick for their online identities.
The decision paves the way for final approval to launch .xxx as an online red light district, alongside suffixes such as .com and .org, in as soon as six months, finally ending a decade-long battle.
The agency, ICANN, had already rejected the application from U.S. company ICM Registry LLC, three times since 2000 —partly under pressure from Christian groups and governments unhappy with the spread of online porn, ICM's chief executive, Stuart Lawley, said.
The agency's board said Friday that it had not treated the application fairly three years ago when it reversed an earlier decision recognizing .xxx, and promised to move swiftly with standard checks on Lawley's company.
The new suffix would not be required for pornographic sites, but backers say it will make it easy for Web blocking software to filter out ".xxx" sites, marking them clearly as porn.
"It will promote more labeled content," Lawley argued. "People who want to find it know where it is, and people who don't see it or want to keep it away from their kids can use mechanisms to do so."
But, skeptics say the new domain will likely change little, noting that most porn sites would likely keep their existing ".com" names, to allow their businesses to be found more easily.
Pornography is a huge business: The adult entertainment industry is worth some $13 billion a year, according to the California-based Adult Video News Media Network.
Lawley said he thinks the new address could easily attract at least 500,000 sites, making it -- after ".mobi" -- the second biggest sponsored top-level domain name. He expects to make $30 million a year in revenue by selling each .xxx site for $60 -- and pledges to donate $10 from each sale to child protection initiatives via a nonprofit he has set up.
There are already 110,000 reservations for the new domain, he said, and the company could get the Internet suffix up and running within six to nine months after ICANN checks that ICM has the financial means and technical know-how to run it.
"I think we could do a million or more. There are several million adult top-level domain names already out there," he told the AP before the ICANN board meeting.
ICANN acknowledged Friday at a public board meeting that its 2007 refusal to accept .xxx was "not consistent with the application of neutral, objective and fair documented policy." It agreed to swiftly re-examine the ".xxx" application.