Brands Spoil for a .Domain .Fight

Coalition plans last-ditch effort against plan to add new top-level domains

A major change to the way domain names are organized is set to hit the Internet as soon as January. Forget about just having top-level domains like .com, .org, and so on, and get ready for .Apple, .Coke, and .almost anything else you can think of. That is, unless some of the world’s biggest brands have anything to say about it. They’re currently organizing a last-minute campaign to put a stop to the changes.

Led by the Association of National Advertisers, more than two dozen organizations are gearing up to lobby Congress, put pressure on the Commerce Department, and, if necessary, go to court. This week, the coalition plans to deliver a petition to new Commerce Secretary John Bryson, laying out its case that the new system would burden brand holders, confuse consumers, and increase opportunities for fraud, identity theft, and cyber crime.

There’s not much time to stop the plan from going into effect. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which approved the idea in June, will start  accepting applications for the new top-level domains (TLDs) in January. Even if the coalition had more time, it still might not be able to get it done; there is no regulatory authority with direct control over Icann, a nonprofit public-benefit corporation registered in California.

The coalition is targeting the Commerce Department first because its National Tele-communications and Information Administration controls the contract for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority that allows Icann to coordinate domain names. That contract, recently extended for six months, is up in March. “Icann cannot operate without IANA,” said Doug Wood, a partner with Reed Smith who’s representing the ANA. “Commerce has a lot of leverage long term.”

It might be a tough sale, though. A spokeswoman for the NTIA said its “role is not to substitute judgment for Icann, but rather to make sure Icann’s decision-making process is open and provides opportunity for stakeholder input,” and that in this case NTIA was “relatively pleased” with Icann’s process. But an industry representative who attended a recent Icann meeting in Senegal said Commerce “expressed disappointment at the Icann meeting about Icann’s policy-making activities.”

For now, Icann is dismissing the coalition’s concerns. “These groups have had every opportunity to participate. It seems late in the day to lobby,” a spokesman told Adweek. “There’s no intention on Icann’s part to change the date or anything else.”

If all else fails, the coalition is ready to sue. “We’re ready to file every day, but we don’t want to do that; litigation will cost millions. We want to be reasonable,” Wood said.

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