Webcasters Take Protests To Washington

Ordinarily, Wanda Atkinson is in St. Louis running 3WK, the Internet radio station she owns with her husband, Jim. But yesterday she was in Washington, canvassing Capitol Hill in search of Congressional support for her cause -- protecting small Webcasters from the royalty fees instituted by the Librarian of Congress that are due to be paid a month from now.

"It was a long hard day," she said after spending a day visiting 25 Congressional offices along with about a dozen small Webcasters, who arrived in Washington two days ago for two days of strenuous appeals.

Weary from the day, Atkinson couldn't remember all the offices she visited, but said she met with aides of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-MO) and Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL) among others.

"There's a lot of support for small Webcasters on the Hill," she says, indicating they now understand the problem small Webcasters face from the fees. The number of U.S. Webcasters has already dropped by a third since the fees were approved, she says. "If we don't get support, more Webcasters will close," she asserts, indicating only the large Webcasters and foreign Webcasters will remain.

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Congress is currently considering the Internet Radio Fairness Act, introduced in June by Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), and George Nethercutt (R-WA). The bill would relieve small Webcasters from paying the fees temporarily, until a new fee system is developed. "We talked about how they can help, especially with the Fairness Act," Atkinson says. "They support it, but it will take a special effort to get it through."

When asked whether the Congressmen she visited thought they'd be able to act on the Fairness Act before the Oct. 20 fee deadline, Atkinson says, "They couldn't tell us about that." The Congressional session is set to close in October and Congress is tied up with other important issues, so it may not be able to act in time.

Atkinson says about a dozen small Webcasters are in Washington with her, including representatives from Radio IO and Digitally Imported.

She says some of the Webcasters also met yesterday with the Small Business Administration in an effort to get small Webcasters officially defined as small businesses. The Fairness Act exempts only small businesses from the fees, defining them as businesses with revenue under $6 million. The Recording Industry Association of America, which seeks the fees, opposes the $6 million figure, because it says almost all Webcasters would be covered by it.

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