RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Did you happen to notice which US Senator played a crucial role in keeping music webcasters online?

Jesse Helms.

Yes, the senior, staunchly conservative and retiring Senator from North Carolina worked with the very liberal Patrick Leahy of Vermont to hammer out the “Small Webcaster Settlement Act of 2002”.

The intent of the legislation is to help give radio stations using the web to broadcast music more time to negotiate royalties fees that are due the Recording Industry Association of America. The Library of Congress earlier this year decreed that the RIAA was due fees, and many radio stations either stopped webcasting or threatened to do so, saying the couldn’t afford the fees.

The bill also stays payments that are already due until fees are negotiated. The new deadlines are Dec. 15 for commercial broadcasters and May 31 of next year for non-commercial stations such as WCPE in Raleigh. The station lobbied Helms, seeking the delay.

Deborah Proctor, WCPE’s station manager who has adopted an aggressive growth strategy — including the Internet — said she liked the bill. “We will not give up on getting regulations enacted to guarantee that WCPE’s webcasts can be open and accessible to everybody,” she said.

Lobbying both sides

Helms’ intervention is one reason why high-tech organizations, especially in North Carolina, need to be more proactive in seeking Republican support at the local and national levels. Elizabeth Dole could be a big help to NC’s tech interests.

State Senator Eric Reeves, a Democrat, held off Paul Coble in a recount to keep his seat. Reeves has been a big supporter of technology in North Carolina.

However, Republicans have secured control of the state House. And if Leo Daughtry of Smithfield is elected Speaker, the tech lobbyists and industry leaders had better be scheduling appointments with his office.

States move to tax online sales

Here are some reasons:

  • Representatives from North Carolina attended a meeting in Chicago last week where 31 states voted to being imposing sales taxes on Internet transactions. Those currently are prohibited for the most part by a Supreme Court decision. But the “Streamlined Sales Tax Project” says a country-wide system is needed to tax transactions because states are losing $13 billion a year, according to the General Accounting Office. Congress also passed a moratorium on Internet taxes in 1998, but it expires in 2003.
  • The main target of the effort is not consumers but larger firms making big transactions online.
  • A recent survey of “politically active business executives” by The John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh, concluded that “the state’s current economic challenges reflected long-term problems rather than simply a cyclical downturn.” Primary problem? High state and local tax burdens followed by a shortage of skilled workers and the state’s public school system.

The Orange County Register described the online tax idea this way: “Like a bad penny, the idea to tax all kinds of sales transactions on the Internet just keeps coming back.”

The North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association successfully lobbied against a proposed tax on software in the last General Assembly session. One of the supporters of the bill was Democrat Paul Leubke of Durham.

Leubke also happens to be a member of a task force supporting the unified state Internet tax strategy.

Several high-tech initiatives will be on the agenda, from regaining funding for the North Carolina Technological Development Authority, restoration of cuts in budgets for the NC Biotechnology Center and in money for high-speed networking and high-performance computing for the UNC System, as well as the proposed $30 million for a biotech worker training program. In the past, NCEITA and others also have lobbied hard for tax credits for job creation as well as accelerated write-offs for capital equipment.

Funds for industrial recruitment have come under closer scrutiny as well. How will Republicans in the House look on funds set aside for use by the Department of Commerce, which has been a big ally of the technology sector?

I’m sure many tech firms, lawyers and lobbyists called to congratulate Reeves on his victory.

I bet the appointment calendar for Daughtry also is already filling up. If not, it should be.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.