ICANN is set to vote this Friday on whether to launch the controversial .xxx internet domain, which would be used purely for pornography.

Supporters say adult content would be easier to regulate if it had its own cordoned section of the web. But critics including religious leaders say the move could make adult content too easy to find, while others complain that increased filtering could harm the right to freedom of speech.

"This clearly is a controversial issue, and an issue that polarises, and that conflict is mirrored on the board," said Paul Twomey, chief executive of ICANN, the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers. He spoke during a conference call with reporters yesterday at the beginning of a meeting of the organisation held in Lisbon, Portugal.

"We are still actively seeking input on the issue, and the degree of feedback we've received has been vigorous, with the overwhelming amount of public feedback on the negative rather than the positive. I can't tell you what the outcome will be because I don't know," he said.

The ICANN board will consider many other issues this week, such as how ISPs could have better reacted to a root server attack in February and how to handle two-letter domain codes for countries that no longer exist, like Yugoslavia (.yu) and the Soviet Union (.su). Also under discussion are ICANN's legal options in terminating the accreditation of RegisterFly.com, a domain registrar with a history of customer service complaints.

ICANN is pushing RegisterFly to avoid a new round of conflict resolution talks, and instead submit to ICANN's demands to send a bulk transfer of its users' data to an accredited registrar. If it does not, then ICANN could ask a court to force the transfer.

The owners of RegisterFly are fighting each other for the company in court. In the meantime, customers have reported that their domain names expire prematurely or are impossible to renew. ICANN has begun the process of ending RegisterFly's accreditation.

RegisterFly did not respond to requests for comment.

The incident could push ICANN to change the way it screens registrars, said Twomey. The industry has evolved from the original Network Solutions monopoly to a market filled with many competing registrars. ICANN today lists about 860 registrars for 80 million domain names.

"Microsoft requires you to pass tests before you sell their software, but we don't require you to have any accredited skill set to become a registrar. Perhaps that's something we need to address," Twomey said.