ANA Fears Confusion, Brand Squatting in ICANN’s New Domain Plan

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) hopes to throw the clout of its 10,000 global brands – and their $250 billion annual marketing spend – against a new plan to open registration of top-level domains to all comers.

In June, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) said it would allow new generic top-level domains (TLDs) – the part of a web address to the right of the dot, such as .com and .net. The move would enable companies and brands to use their own names, for example, .Godiva or .HomeDepot. The plan has been in the works for four years.

ICANN says that new generic TLDs could aid branding and make it easier for both customers and search engines to find company websites.

Domain name registrars have been clamoring for an increase in generic TLDs ever since the dot-com boom. The new program would free them from having to compete to fill customers’ URL requests. Naseem Javed, principle of ABC NameBank and a consultant on naming architectures and ICANN issues, estimates that the program could create $33 billion in fees in the first three years.

But the ANA says the move will introduce confusion into the marketplace, diminish the power of trademarks, and increase cybersquatting.

“Some ANA members have hundreds or thousands of brands. They have to be faced with the decision whether to protect those brands by buying the right side of the dot,” Dan Jaffe, EVP of government relations, told ClickZ.com.

In addition to the $185,000 cost for each registration, Jaffe said, “It geometrically increases the opportunity for cybersquatting. There’s already been a tremendous amount of cybersquatting to the left of the dot. When you start seeing someone’s name on the right side, how would you know whether or not it’s the actual company?”

In a report evaluating the new generic LTDs, MarkMonitor, an “enterprise brand protection” company, said that the potential for brand abuse will expand significantly, resulting in increased defensive domain registrations. Moreover, according to the report, “This shift in the way information is found by users has the potential to fundamentally change the way business is conducted on the Internet.”

In addition to protesting directly to ICANN, the ANA also sent a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, saying ICANN’s contract to administer the domain name system should not be renewed.

“We believe that ICANN has violated its own Code of Conduct and abrogated its Affirmation of Commitments with the Department of Commerce (“DOC”) by failing to act fairly, transparently and with a bottom up consensus driven approach to policy development relative to the Program,” the letter said.

The MarkMonitor report warned, “Due to the cost and complexity, developing and executing a gTLD strategy will be a major undertaking, and will require the participation of a range of corporate stakeholders including Marketing, eCommerce, IT, Security and Legal—with significant involvement by executive management.”

Nevertheless, it added, “Wait and see is not an option.”

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