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Idaho Public TV Station Faces Annihilation

MOSCOW, IDAHO: The University of Idaho is in danger of losing it’s PBS member station, KUID-TV, local press reports indicate. The state’s governor, Butch Otter, has proposed budget cuts that would eliminate funding for the Idaho Public TV system, which now operates KUID, (pictured left). Around $1.5 million of IPTV’s $7 million operating budget is contributed by the state government, according to the Idaho Statesman. By comparison, the Idaho Statehouse recently underwent a $120 million restoration. The bonds are to be repaid through a cigarette tax, the Statesman said.

Peter Morrill, general manager of IPTV, told The Argonaut that a loss of state funding would result in laying off about one-third of the staff and closure of three of its facilities. IPTV has five full-power transmitters and 42 translators covering around 97 percent of Idaho’s population. The network’s local programming includes the only full coverage of the state legislature.

Support for the IPTV budget cuts is not strictly a matter of political affiliation. The governor, a Republican, wants to pull funding. Lt. Gov. Brad Little is a supporter, but he noted that a new $50 million education network connecting classrooms in the state via broadband makes schools less reliant on IPTV.

The station has had a rocky relationship with lawmakers, the Statesman said. It produced two investigative documentaries in the 1970s that motivated the legislature to cut funding for public television. Idaho residents objected, and funding was partially restored. Subsequent investigative exposés have riled mostly conservative lawmakers.

KUID, launched in 1965, is the state’s oldest public station. It was upgraded for the digital transition at a cost of around $860,000, according to The Argonaut, the newspaper produced by the University of Idaho. The head of the J-school there said she didn’t know what would happen to the equipment, much of which is owned by the university. She said the school would still need a broadcast facility if KUID is shut down.

The State contributed the lion’s share of government funding for IPTV’s digital transition--$14 million out of a total of $22 million for all the stations and translators, the Statesman said. The federal government chipped in around $6 million, some of which may have to be returned if the equipment isn’t operated for at least 10 years.

(“Debate confronts Idaho Public Television’s value,” is available at the Idaho Statesman.)