The nonprofit organization responsible for Internet addresses on Wednesday approved ".xxx" domains, a move that reverses the group's earlier position and heads off a potential political spat with conservative U.S. politicians.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said it's working with the ICM Registry to finalize remaining details, meaning the porn-friendly set of .xxx domains should be available by the end of the year. Other top-level domains still awaiting a decision from ICANN are .asia, .mail, and .tel.

Stuart Lawley, chairman of the ICM Registry, could not be immediately reached for comment. In an interview last year, Lawley said that .xxx domain names would cost around $75 and come with no restrictions except that any sexually explicit content feature only adults. "Apart from child pornography, which is completely illegal, we're really not in the content-monitoring business," Lawley said.

ICM Registry plans to handle the technical aspects of running the master database of .xxx sex sites. A second, nonprofit organization called the International Foundation For Online Responsibility will be in charge of setting the rules for .xxx. It's intended to have a seven-person board of directors, including a child advocacy advocate, a free-expression aficionado and someone from the adult entertainment industry.

ICANN's vote represents an abrupt turnabout from the group's earlier stance. In November 2000, the ICANN staff objected to domains such as .kids and .xxx and rejected ICM Registry's first application.

Politicians quickly lambasted the decision. At a hearing a few months later, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., demanded to know why ICANN didn't approve .xxx "as a means of protecting our kids from the awful, awful filth, which is sometimes widespread on the Internet." Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., complained (click for PDF) to a federal commission that .xxx was necessary to force adult Webmasters to "abide by the same standard as the proprietor of an X-rated movie theater."

Even though ICM Registry's approach is designed to be free-speech-friendly, the American Civil Liberties Union has expressed concerns about .xxx domains. One worry is that some nations may force sites dealing with sensitive topics like homosexuality or birth control into the .xxx zone, where they can be easily blocked.