A bill that awards U.S. public broadcasting $20 million, signed by President George Bush on July 24, 2001, is intended to aid pubcasters’ transition to digital. The money was realized as part of a $6.5 billion Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that was approved by the House and Senate last Friday. The money for public broadcasting was released from appropriated federal funds from fiscal year 2001.
According to John Lawson, president and CEO of the Association of America’s Public Television Stations (APTS), the funds represented a political rather than a monetary breakthrough. Says Lawson, ‘[We] have been tying to convince Congress over the last three-and-a-half years to approve targeted funding for the digital conversion. This is the first time our industry has received it.’ He adds, ‘The money will be distributed by CPB [Corporation for Public Broadcasting] in consultation with the public stations and their national representatives. We expect the bulk of the funding will go to facilities and a smaller share for the creation of new types of digital content. In terms of facilities grants, it’s possible the grants will be distributed on a regional basis as opposed to a pro-rated station by station basis, which would tend to promote consolidation of master control operations and studio production facilities.’
In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) mandated that all public television stations convert to digital broadcasting by May 2003. The initial investment required to make the transition is estimated at $1.8 billion. To date, public broadcasters have raised $600 million at the state and local level, and are requesting the federal government invest $699 million.