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Congress Cuts Emergency Funds for PBS Stations

House slashes $19 million allocation to help broadcasters hit by natural disasters

Last Updated: March 18, 2011 @ 4:21 PM


Emergency funding for PBS stations may soon become a thing of the past.

On Thursday, Congress eliminated the $19 million emergency funding allocated for PBS stations this year, and the Obama administration plans to eliminate the long-standing program entirely next year.

For more than 40 years, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program has helped local public broadcasting stations get back on the air after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the bombing of the World Trade Center. It has also awarded grants that helped public broadcasting stations transition from analog to digital broadcasting.

The elimination of this program could put even more pressure on the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s resources, which are also at risk for defunding. 

Mike Riksen, NPR’s Vice President for Policy and Representation, an advocate for public media, expressed concern about Congress’s decision to eliminate PTFP funding.

“The elimination of this program means that in times of emergency and crisis and storms when broadcast transmitters go down and are out of service, there won’t be a ready source of funding to bring broadcast services online quickly,” he told TheWrap. “I think audiences will suffer for the lack of information.”

Several stations in the Gulf region received PTFP emergency grants that enabled them to resume broadcasting after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. PTFP also helped restore the transmission capabilities of stations after transmitters on the roof of the World Trade Center were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

Riksen said PTFP’s equipment upgrade program, which provides a 50 percent match to pay for projects to buy transmitters, antennas and control room equipment, “is a very useful tool for stations to draw more support from their communities” to work with the local station to improve and enhance its programming and services.

“There’s a very dramatic unmet need at the $19 million level, so with no funds this is going to put public broadcasting stations that need to replace equipment in much more difficult circumstances,” he said.

PTFP grants have also supported stations that want to purchase equipment for visually impaired and disabled listeners. Last year, PTFP funded nine projects for new radio stations that will provide first-time service to more than 77,000 people and additional service to more than 14,000 people living in Native American communities.

The program's elimination may directly affect grant making at the CPB, which historically has provided funding only for programming and content.

“If PTFP is eliminated, many stations would likely have to find other sources of funding, such as CPB, possibly, to make up the difference,” Nicole Mezlo CPB press officer told TheWrap.

Some local and community broadcast stations eligible for PTFP grants, may not qualify for CPB funding.