Many years ago, when streaming radio was just a sweet young thing, the big record companies realized they weren't making any money off of it. Commercial radio pays a royalty fee for each song that is played, non-commercial pays a small flat fee annually. So the government came up with this convoluted mess of a system to charge for internet radio - something like a sliding scale per song based on the number of hits the site got per hour. It was a fluctuating rate, just like it sounds. What got confusing for the non-coms (ranging from college and community stations to broadcasters in their living rooms) was that they didn't necessarily have those numbers - and they certainly didn't have the money.
To be safe, thousands of stations went dark. Small community stations turned off the streams, potentially losing tons of new donation revenue. Creative weirdos in Alaska playing rare rockabilly were silenced. Political commentary of all kinds ceased.
Then the government did what they had done in the world of terrestrial radio... The Flat Fee. All was well for the little guys.
Until March 1st of this year, when the US Copyright Office decided that they were right in the first place, and all internet radio needed to pay these royalty fees based on how many people were listening, regardless of if the station received any sort of income. And make it effective January 1st of 2006... LAST YEAR. To give you an idea of how this works, check out this figure from the "Save Our Internet Radio" website: Under this royalty structure, an Internet radio station with an average listenership of 1000 people would owe $134,000 in royalties during 2007 - plus $98,000 in back payments for 2006. In 2008 they would owe $171,000, and $220,000 in 2009.
Um, that's kinda bullshit.
Terrestrial radio has been struggling under the Mickey D's syndrome ever since Clinton passed the Deregulation Act of 1996, which allowed the Clear Channels of the world to gobble up stations and effectively stamp out individuality. There are struggling stations all over the country trying to make an impact, and many, many more online. Charging the non-commercial entities these kinds of fees would kill them, and the some of the very artists the US Copyright Act wants to help (ahem right) would not make it onto any real radio airwaves and get heard anyway.
You can do something... It was stopped once before, and hopefully we can stop it again. Go here to sign a petition, and then bombard your Congresspeople with emails.
To quote the Actionslacks tune "This Damn Nation:" and don't talk about the airwaves 'cause I can't hold back the tears, all the bands that could save your life - you will never hear...