Congress should pass Internet Radio Fairness Act

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In September, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Representatives Chaffetz (R-Utah), Polis (D-Colo.), Issa (R-Calif.) and Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced the legislation, which would modernize America’s music copyright royalty system by setting a more equitable standard for the calculation of royalty rates for Internet radio. These rates now can exceed 50 percent of a company’s revenues, unlike other digital broadcasting platforms. It’s an overdue fix for a poor system that was set in place years ago, before we could have imagined how Internet radio would have evolved.
 
But really, there is a bigger story about IRFA than radio. That’s why groups like the Computer & Communications Industry Association and the Consumer Electronics Association have joined this important coalition.
 
It’s no secret that America’s economy has become increasingly Internet-focused, allowing the mobile device industry to flourish. From increases in wifi availability to the development of apps to more user-friendly devices, each year brings new innovation and improved access to millions of Americans.
 
In other words, gone are the days of brick-sized car phones that rarely managed to find a signal.
 
Mobile devices don’t just allow us to phone home. We can manage our finances, share photos with old friends, translate phrases into foreign languages, discover new musicians, buy gifts for friends – and even occupy ourselves in a line at the DMV by playing Scrabble.
 
It may seem that improvements in mobile devices have allowed development of those programs. But – remembering that cyclical nature of innovation – it is also true that increasingly novel programs help to drive new innovation in the mobile device market.
 
This brings us back to Internet radio. Millions of Americans listen to music through various Internet radio stations every day. Many of them do so for free. They can find playlists that suit their moods and they can discover new artists whose music they enjoy, but have never heard before. Quite simply, for many of us, it has become a part of our daily lives.
 
But the royalty system needs to be fixed so that current webcasters can grow and evolve, and so that future webcasters are able to bring their ideas to fruition.
 
This, in turn, will help to spur new development in the device world, as manufacturers scramble to provide users with the best listening experience possible. And that will lead to new advances throughout the industry, with other programs and with new apps. The early metaphor for the Internet – the web – continues to be apt, as we see how interwoven technological development truly is across platforms.
 
Innovation does not happen in a vacuum, especially in the innovative technology industries. So when one form of technology is held back, especially by burdensome government regulations, all technology innovation runs the risk of becoming stifled.
 
Now is not the time to hold back some of America’s most dynamic, promising businesses – businesses that, if allowed to grow, will continue to create jobs. In order to maintain America’s global leadership, we must provide entrepreneurs with an environment that lets them flourish. By correcting unfair, restrictive, excessive copyright rates for internet radio, IRFA will help to do so.
 
Black is president & CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA).