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COMMUNET Home

COMMUNET Home

COMMUNET  March 1997, Week 2

COMMUNET March 1997, Week 2

Subject:

IRS Treatment of ISP's

From:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 5 Mar 1997 15:56:35 -0800 (PST)

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (65 lines)

I am the CEO of Jeffrson Public Radio (JPR) and JEFFNET, a small ISP/online 
service which is owned and operated by JPR.  (JPR is a network of 11 
public radio stations serving southern Oregon and northern California).  
I actually joined this listserv some weeks ago specifically because I 
had run into a few threads of an earlier discussion in this list which 
dealt with IRS-related problems some non-profit ISP's were having.

We are in the process of changing JPR's parent corporate status  (we are 
owned by the State of Oregon and JEFFNET is a wholly-owned subsidiary of 
a foundation related to our college).  In the course of that discussion 
we've gotten deeply involved in the IRS issues related to JEFFNET.

I gather from threads of previous discussion that the IRS is starting to 
take the position that if you run a modem pool, you are running a 
business which does not qualify for tax exemption.  JEFFET is an oddly 
situated thing in that it is more than just an online service.  It is 
tied into our public radio programming in various ways.  For example, the 
only way to submit JPR public service announcements (for which we do not 
charge obviously) is via a new JEFFNET community calendar interface.  
Our daily political commentator does an online version of his column.  We 
have community forums on line which are devoted to topics which we deal 
with on air and the content is bi-directional between JPR (on air) and 
JEFFNET.  So, it is hard to say that our radio side is nonprofit, which 
it is, and then to decide just when the content migrated to JEFFNET 
suddently becomes part of a "business."  JEFFNET also has significant 
partnerships with other nonprofits and has placed these organizations 
online.  (We are, in effect, the nonprofit, noncommecial online service 
in our region in the same way that our radio side is the noncommercial 
radio service for the same region.)

That all said, I would appreciate some comments and guidance from other 
ISP's because I am having trouble following the logic of the IRS 
discussion as I have understand it.

Many different enterprises are alternatively for-profit or 
non-for-profit with no clear dividing line for any given industry.  In 
other words, hospitals, Blue Cross, YMCA's and credit unions are, or can 
be, non-profit tax exempted.  The AAA is a not-for-profit with whom the 
the travel clubs of Sears, Mobil and others must complete.

So I am having a difficult time understanding why the simple act of 
operating a modem pool should designate an ISP as a commercial business.
If one were being true to the theory and law of non-profit enterprise in 
these other industries, it would seem that the test for an ISP which runs 
a modem pool should be what you do, and how you do it, in respect of your 
non-profit mission rather than just operating a modem pool and charging 
for its use as part of a broader set of services you provide. 

Has anyone else litigated this with the IRS on this basis or is everyone 
pretty much accepting the premise that operating a modem pool is per se 
an admission that you are in the for-profit side of this type of activity?

JEFFNET charges fees to members for various things, including modem pool 
access, and then uses those revenues to support the services which we give 
away to schools and local governments.  I'm having a hard time understanding
why that is not an acceptable non-profit model.

Does any one have any guidance on these points?  Am I missing something?

                                          Ron Kramer
                                          Jefferson Public Radio/JEFFNET
                                          Ashland OR


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