To be sure, the Copyright Royalty Board’s new rates for Internet radio represent a hefty increase over years past, when Netcasters paid fees based on income. The new rates call for a pay-per-play listener situation – .11 of a cent for each song played this year, rising to .19 of a cent by 2010.

The new rates were originally to take effect earlier this year. However, after a panel of copyright judges denied a request that the Copyright Royalty Board reconsider the rate increase, the same panel postponed the date to May 15th. Recently that date was pushed to July 15th.

Netcasters call the new rates a death knell for Internet radio. Claiming the hike represents a markup of 300 to 1,200 percent, Internet broadcasters are predicting the new pricing system will quickly put all but the largest of companies out of business.

Now Congress has gotten into the act, with almost identical bills in the House and Senate. If passed and signed into law by President Bush, the bill will not only flush the new rates, but also set fees for Internet radio that are close if not identical to amounts now paid by satellite radio.

Called the “Internet Radio Equality Act,” or “IREA” for acronym fans, the bill was introduced in the House of Representatives last month by Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Donald Manzullo (R-IL). One week later Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) co-sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“I am alarmed by the recent Copyright Royalty Board decision and the effect it will have on Internet radio – especially small Webcasters with limited revenue streams,” Brownback said. “I am hopeful that with this bipartisan legislation Internet radio will continue to flourish.”

SoundExchange, which collects online royalties, was hardly impressed by either House’s legislative efforts. As soon as IREA was introduced in the Senate, SoundExchange issued a retaliatory statement.

“In a blatant attempt to strip artists and record labels of their hard-won royalties for the use of their sound recordings on Internet radio,” stated the press release, “proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate would not only invalidate the March 2, 2007 ruling of the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), it would roll back by 70 percent pre-decision rates already paid by Webcasters.”

But SoundExchange isn’t the only organization playing the press release game. In fact, no matter on which side one sits on in the Internet radio royalty debate, there’s plenty of chatter from people and organizations supporting or condemning the new fees.

“Since the CRB’s ruling, Internet radio listeners, Webcasters and artists they promote have joined together to urge Congress to prevent this vibrant industry from going silent on July 15th,” said Jake Ward, a representative for SaveNetRadio. “On behalf of Internet radio’s 70 million monthly listeners, thousands of Webcasters, and the incredible diversity of talented artists it supports, we commend Senators Wyden and Brownback for their understanding of Internet radio’s importance and for their leadership in taking steps needed to save it.”

SaveNetRadio describes itself as a “national coalition of Webcasters, recording artists, listeners and record labels.” While most Webcasters and listeners are definitely in that organization’s corner, a closer look at the debate will find artists and labels on both sides of the issue.

For example, the Recording Artists’ Coalition, which isn’t exactly a fan of recording industry business practices, has come out in favor of the new rates.

AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft and other big corporations are aggressively trying to cut Webcasting royalties to artists and labels by 70 percent,” says the RAC on its Web page. “That means not only gutting the recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board that set rates at fair market value, but rolling back rates already paid by Webcasters.”

The RAC then goes on to slam the SaveNetRadio organization.

“Although the organization claims to represent artists, independent labels and small Webcasters, it is in fact funded by the big Webcasters, which they have admitted to publicly.”

The “big Webcasters” reference is not an exclusive remark made by the RAC, but instead has been one of SoundExchange’s constant talking points.

“It just goes to show that big corporate Webcasters will go to any length to protect their outsized profits and unfairly low artists’ payments,” said SoundExchange executive director John Simson in an April 30th written statement. “Using misinformation and blatantly false statistics, they are trying to recruit small Webcasters and even some artists to front for them, but their secret is out.”

Whether “their secret is out” is debatable, for organizations opposing the new rates have not exactly been shy in announcing their backers, and Webcasters big and small have a stake in the new royalty fees. Every time SoundExchange refers to the lower rates proposed by the Internet Radio Equality Act as a “windfall” for major corporations, there’s someone on the other side predicting the “death of an industry” if the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision becomes the final say on the matter.

But in the end someone’s gotta give. Even if it’s .11 of a cent per song per person.