An online red-light district is a step closer to being built after the agency in charge of top-level domains took another look at the proposed .xxx domain.  

Supporters of the .xxx domain say it will help keep porn in its own corner of the internet.

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A man surfs an internet sex site in Brussels. On Friday, porn sites stepped closer to a new .xxx internet address after the global internet oversight agency said it made mistakes in rejecting the idea three years ago. ((Virginia Mayo/Associated Press))

The company that wants to run .xxx has already tried and failed three times to win permission from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, to set up a top-level domain name dedicated to pornography. Top-level domain names, or TLDs are the names for web address suffixes such as .com or .org.

Stuart Lawley, chief executive of ICM Registry, which first tried to register the domain in 2000, says Christian groups and governments unhappy with the spread of online porn put pressure on the agency to reject his bid.

But under criticism from an outside panel, the agency's board acknowledged Friday that it had not treated the application fairly and would now move swiftly to carry out standard checks on Lawley's company.

Lawley says 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.

'People who want to find it know where it is.'— Stuart Lawley, ICM Registry chief executive

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.

He also says he will make it easy for web-blocking software to filter out .xxx sites by requiring them to carry a machine-readable metatag marking them clearly as porn.

"It will promote more labelled content," he said. "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."

No obligation for porn sites to use .xxx

Skeptics note that porn sites would likely keep existing ".com" storefronts to allow their businesses to be found more easily. There would be no requirement for porn sites to use .xxx. 

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A billboard above the entry of a sex shop Ghent, Belgium. Supporters of a new .xxx internet domain say it will help keep pornography sites to their own corner of the internet, although sites would not be obligated to use the domain. ((Yves Logghe/Associated Press))

The adult entertainment industry is worth about $13 billion a year, according to the California-based Adult Video News Media Network.

Lawley said he already has 110,000 reservations for the .xxx domain and could get the internet suffix up and running within six to nine months after ICANN is satisfied ICM has the financial means and technical know-how to run it.

"I think we could do a million or more," he said in an interview before the ICANN board meeting.

ICANN acknowledged Friday that its earlier refusal to accept .xxx was "not consistent with the application of neutral, objective and fair documented policy."

It is the first time ICANN has been effectively forced to review a decision. The agency says it is only obliged to follow the law of California, where it is based, but it has agreed to follow the findings of the accountability review by a panel drawn from the internet community.