White House requests funding for public broadcasting, but DTV in rural areas may suffer

President Obama’s new budget, submitted to Congress last week, requests full funding of $445 million for the fiscal year 2016 advance appropriation for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB).

Now, it will be up to a divided Congress to approve or disapprove the appropriation. The CPB distributes an average of 15 percent of the federal money to more than 1300 local public television stations.

“On behalf of the millions of Americans who utilize public service media, CPB would like to thank the President for the funding he proposes in his budget, as well as for his support of the two-year advance, which serves as an important firewall ensuring editorial independence in programming decisions,” said Patricia Harrison, CEO of CPB. “The federal appropriation provides essential support for the production of local and national content, making it possible for public radio and television stations across the country, locally owned and operated, to serve their communities with content that educates, informs, inspires and entertains.”

The CPB’s federal funding is allocated two years in advance of the annual congressional appropriations cycle. The President’s budget maintains funding at the same amounts provided for fiscal 2013, prior to the cuts imposed through sequestration, and for 2014.

The White House’s budget also proposes changes to other federal programs that assist public stations. The President recommended eliminating the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service Public Television Digital Transition Grant Program, which provided more than $3 million in digital transition aid to local public TV in 2012.

It also consolidates the “Ready to Learn” low-income early childhood education program within other federal education programs. Previously, Congress has not adopted either proposal.

Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations (APTS), was appreciative of the White House Budget but challenged the President’s changes to the “Ready to Learn” and digital transition programs.

“Public television has helped 90 million preschoolers get ready to succeed in school and in life, and keeping Ready to Learn as an independent program is a smart investment in America’s future,” Butler said.

He also expressed disappointment to see the Rural Utilities Service Public Television Digital Transition Grant Program marked for elimination by the President.

“This funding helps to ensure that rural communities have continued access to local public television content after the federally mandated DTV conversion, which has been particularly difficult for rural communities,” Butler said. “Public television stations are some of the last locally owned and operated media outlets in many rural communities, often serving as essential educational, public safety, cultural, public service and health care bridges in remote areas.”