ANA ramps up protests of ICANN domain name plan

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The Association of National Advertiser's drumbeat against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers plan for launching a new program of generic top level domains continued even as the Christmas holiday approached this week.

ICANN's gTLD program will give marketers the option of reserving so-called brand gTLD's, such as .cocacola or .cisco, or gTLD's such as .laptop or .insurance. It's an option the ANA and other marketing groups, which have banded to together to create the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Name Oversight, apparently do not want—at least not in the form currently proposed.

And most marketers sure don't want to pay $185,000 to go through the application process for a gTLD. “(CMOs) see the pricing as predatory,” said Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, which has not taken a position on the new gTLDs but has been urging its members to plan for the program's launch.

On Monday, the ANA issued a press release applauding the Federal Trade Commission's letter to ICANN Chairman Stephen Crocker and CEO Rod Beckstrom lambasting the gTLD program, which is slated to launch an application period beginning on Jan. 12. “A rapid, exponential expansion of gTLDs has the potential to magnify both the abuse of the domain name system and the corresponding challenges we encounter in tracking down Internet fraudsters,” read one complaint in the FTC letter.

This month, the ANA has also looked to get other parts of the U.S. government on its side as the organization's exec VP-government relations, Dan Jaffe, testified in hearings before U.S. Senate and House committees. Jaffe's testimony focused on the application expense, the difficulties involved in trademark protection and the lack of “consensus” supporting the launch of the program.

In testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation, ICANN's Kurt Pritz, senior VP-stakeholder relations, focused on how the gTLD program was subjected to more than 45 comment periods since 2005. “This program did not evolve in a vacuum,” Pritz said in an interview with ITM.

“Everybody gets a chance to talk, but only a few people get listened to,” Jaffe said in an interview with ITM, adding: “We should use this money for job creation. There are a lot better investments we could be making.”

Esther Dyson, who was the founding chair of ICANN between 1998 and 2000, also testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. She views the new gTLD program as unnecessary. “If it ain't broke, don't fix it,” she said at the conclusion of her remarks.

But unfortunately for the ANA, neither the Senate nor any other government entity has jurisidiction over ICANN, an independent body. The program appears poised to move forward as ICANN's leaders are touring the world, most recently with stops in Russia and China, to take last-minute questions about the new gTLDs.

It may be time for marketers to stop protesting and start planning.

“The fact is that this program is happening, and marketing leaders need to drive their companies to a decision,” said Jeff Ernst, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Some marketers have announced plans to pursue new gTLDs. For instance, Hitachi Ltd. and Canon Inc. have said they would apply for .hitachi and .canon, respectively, although they have revealed little else about their plans.

“A lot of marketers are looking at this as a strategic decision and saying little about it publicly,” said Liz Miller, the CMO Council's VP-marketing programs and operations.

Many observers believe marketers are looking at the new gTLD program as a threat rather than an opportunity. “The innovation is happening in companies that are looking at it strategically, not tactically or defensively,” said Ernst, who said many consumer and “high-tech b-to-b” marketers are contemplating gTLD applications.

Alexa Raad, CEO of Architelos, a TLD consulting and managed registry services company, said marketing executives have three choices when grappling with the new gTLD program: “Do nothing, apply or defend against somebody else applying. Each of those choices has its own disadvantages and costs. What hasn't been talked about is the benefits of gTLDs.”

Raad said that among the opportunities for marketers are the ability to bring far-flung websites under a single gTLD. For instance, she pointed out that Disney had at least 37 different websites that might be more easily found by consumers and managed by the company under .disney.

She also said companies such as General Motors or any b-to-b company that sells through distribution could benefit by having a gTLD for its dealer or distributor base. A .chevy, for instance, could help Chevrolet dealers with security.

In the end, Raad was dismissive of the ANA's protestations against ICANN's program: “They've spent quite a bit of time opposing it without providing guidance to their members and agencies,” she said.

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