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ICANN Expansion Gets Hill Hearing

The Association of National Advertisers took to the Hill on Thursday to warn that new generic Top-Level Domain names (the "to the right of the dot" suffixes like .biz and .info), could threaten billions of dollars in investment in thousands of brands as companies were forced to defend them.

That came in testimony at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on next month's opening of the window on expansion of those generic domain names, which was approved by ICANN, the International registration body, last June. ANA opposed a similar move back in 2008, concerned that  the move would create new threats from phishers, squatters and copycats trying to draw off traffic, creating new expenditures for companies having to protect and defend their brands.

In June, ICANN approved allowing virtually any top-level Internet endings, pushing beyond the current list of 22 (such as .com, .org and .net) to a virtually unlimited number, including branded names like, say, .aftra or .nab.

At the hearing Thursday, Dan Jaffe, executive vice president, ANA, said that ICANN must stop or delay the rollout because of a lack of evidence that it will spur competition or relieve domain scarcity or differentiate new products and services. "There is no demonstrable need to increase generic Top Level Domain names on an unlimited basis, and no likely benefit that would result from such an unrestricted increase."

Currently, Jaffe pointed out, there are 22 suffixes including .biz, .jobs, .travel and .museum., most of which are minimally used but still have to be policed and protected from cybersquatters and pirates. Adding more, he said, will provide not gain but would drain resources from job creation and capital investment.

Defending the ICANN decision was Kurt Pritz, SVP of ICANN. Sounding like a network neutrality backer, he said that new names would bring competition and choice to the Internet. Sounding like the chairman of the FCC, he said that the expansion would increase "consumer choice, competition and innovation. Competition results from opening, not limiting markets, and encouraging investment and innovation," he said.

He also said the decision was the product of input from trade associations, businesses big and small, governments, noncommercial interests brand holders and many others and that there were significant protections for trademarks and against malicious conduct.

He pointed out that the new domains will be limited by round and demand, rather than by size or type as past expansions had been.

As it now stands, applications for new endings will be accepted starting Jan. 12, 2012. The American Federation of Radio & TV Artists also strongly opposes the move, saying it will cause "irreparable harm to brand owners, small businesses and consumers."

Last month, advertising agency associations from around the world joined dozens of other business associations and individual companies -- including Kellogg's, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble -- to oppose the rollout, citing excessive costs to brands. The businesses pulled no punches, saying that not to do so would be failure to act in the public interest.

They have also formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) to "aggressively fight" the ICANN plan. Jaffe said he was also speaking for CRIDO at the hearing. He pointed out that the Screen Actors Guild has also opposed the domain name expansion.

A top D.C. communications attorney said this week that they were monitoring the situation, both for their clients and for themselves.