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Facing the Challenges of the New ICANN gTLD Program - I&T Talks with New York Life's Ken Hittel

This could be the greatest change in e-business since the internet was created, but that's not necessarily a good thing, as New York Life's Ken Hittel observes in an exchange with Insurance & Technology.

There is little doubt that ICANN's new generic top-level domain (gTLD) program could bring staggering changes to the way business is promoted and conducted on the internet. At its 41st international meeting in Singapore this morning, during which ICANN announced the publication of its guidebook for application for new gTLDs (at $185,000 per application, plus a $25,000 annual fee), the body characterized its program as having "opened the internet's naming system to unleash the global human imagination." Others have called it the biggest shake-up of the internet since its creation.

That's not necessarily a good thing, as suggested in a recent story in the Washington Post:

Lauren Weinstein, co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, a grass-roots firm in Los Angeles, alleges that the new domains are designed purely to make money for ICANN and the companies that control the domains. The new Web addresses, he added, will only mean more aggravation for trademark holders and confusion for the average Internet user.

But what does this mean for the insurance industry? As I reported earlier today, State Farm and Farmers see opportunity and threat in the development. However, Ken Hittel, VP corporate internet department, New York Life, shared with I&T a less sanguine view in an exchange late last week:

I&T: What opportunities and threats do you see flowing from ICANN's new gTLD program?

KH: Opportunities? None that I can see. Threats? We'll all have to go ahead and register for new gTLDs that we'll likely hold for purely defensive purposes, that we'll never use, because to use them would require spending millions of dollars (individually, not collectively) to advertise the new domains in a vain attempt to change consumer behavior, which defaults to .com.

I&T: What should insurers do?

KH: I can't make a recommendation beyond studying very carefully what your costs are going to add up to even for purely defensive registrations, let alone for the "opportunity" to try to change online behavior. You need to be prepared to answer one of two questions from your CEO: "How could you have allowed someone else to buy our valuable trademarks?" or: "How could you have wasted so much of the company's budget on worthless domain names?"

Other than that I would suggest, as an idea, not a recommendation, that more companies join the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse (CADNA), to lend weight to their efforts to fight ICANN on this scheme and redirect it to real issues [which might include a dependable, accurate who's-who database, fighting scammers, fraudsters, etc., Hittel suggests] and/or that they join together to find a logical candidate [the ACLI being a potential choice, Hittel says] to purchase relevant generic gTLDs (.lifeinsurance; .annuities; .longtermcareinsurance, etc.) to hold in trust for companies to take advantage of as they please. At least let's not leave us in fearful competition to own these generic names.

I&T: What measures has New York Life taken?

KH: We have joined and participate with CADNA in its lobbying and educational endeavors; we have educated executive management internally about this issue and secured the cooperation and services of our office of governmental affairs to help legislators in Washington understand this subject; we have attempted (so far, in vain, but that may change after the 20th) to mobilize the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), representing every significant brand in the country, to throw their weight into the fray; we have participated in Financial Services Roundtable (FSR) discussions and plans regarding new gTLDs -- in fact, it's possible that they will apply for some on behalf of their constituency.

Anthony O'Donnell has covered technology in the insurance industry since 2000, when he joined the editorial staff of Insurance & Technology. As an editor and reporter for I&T and the InformationWeek Financial Services of TechWeb he has written on all areas of information ... View Full Bio

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