Statement of Patricia de Stacy Harrison President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, Senate Committee on Appropriations

Mar 28, 2016

Chairman Blunt, Ranking Member Murray, and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on behalf of America’s public media service—public television and public radio—on-air, online and in the community. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) requests level funding of $445 million for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, $50 million in FY 2017 for the replacement of the public broadcasting interconnection system, and $25.74 million for Ready To Learn at the Department of Education.

Nearly fifty years after passage of the Public Broadcasting Act, this uniquely American public-private partnership is keeping its promise—to provide high-quality trusted content that educates, inspires, informs and enriches. Through the nearly 1,500 locally owned and operated public radio and television stations across the country, public media reaches nearly 99 percent of the American people—with an overwhelming majority of them consuming public media throughout the year.

Every day more people, businesses, organizations and foundations are committing their time and resources to support the work of public media. President Ronald Reagan said, “government should provide the spark and the private sector should do the rest.” The federal appropriation remains the critical investment that ensures your constituents have access to public media for free and commercial free. America’s local public media stations utilize the “spark” of the federal investment—approximately 10 to 15 percent of a station's budget—and raise the rest from non-federal resources.  

Private donations and existing funding sources can and do help defray costs for the much-honored programs of public television and radio. In fact, non-federal funding represents five of every six dollars invested annually in public broadcasting. However, the federal investment is indispensable to sustaining the operations of public broadcasting stations, capitalizing on the benefits of an integrated system, and fostering the public service mission they pursue: community-based accountability and a universal service to which the Public Broadcasting Act aspires. Over the years, congressionally mandated studies have concluded that there is no alternative to federal funding when it comes to safeguarding the public media service that Americans know and love.

Our trusted, noncommercial services are especially important to those living in rural communities where the local public media station is sometimes the only source of broadcast news, information and educational programming. For these smaller stations serving rural, minority and other underserved communities, the federal dollars provide much more than just a spark, in some cases CPB’s investment can represent as much as 40 percent of their budget.

Public media’s contribution to education—from early childhood through adult learning—is well documented. We are America’s largest classroom, with proven educational content available to all children, including those who cannot afford preschool. Further, parents, caregivers and teachers repeatedly value public media content as the “most trusted.” 

CPB’s work with the Department of Education’s Ready To Learn program is an excellent example of how public media brings together high-quality educational content with on-the-ground work in local communities. More than twenty years ago, Congress recognized the reach and potential of public media to help disadvantaged children become better prepared to enter school. Last year, Congress reaffirmed this belief in the Every Student Succeeds Act by reauthorizing Ready To Learn. For the next five years, public media will continue to provide coordinated and connected STEM and literacy learning experiences for children across multiple platforms, including TV, Internet, mobile, and in multiple settings, including in classrooms, summer and after-school programs, and at home.

While innovation on multiple platforms is important, television is still the primary tool to reach low-income and rural families. More than 80 studies have proven that Ready To Learn content builds and improves early literacy skills for high-need children, ages two to eight. Continued funding will allow public media to carry-on this critical work.

Public media is also differentiated from commercial media through content that matters and engagement that counts. An example of this is CPB’s “American Graduate” initiative, which puts faces behind the statistic of one million young people failing to graduate from high school every year. Our stations told the stories, and communities throughout the country responded.  Over the past five years more than 120 public media stations located in at-risk communities in 49 states have worked with nearly 1,600 national and community-based partners to bring together diverse stakeholders and community organizations all working toward a national graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020. I are pleased to report that as a result of our and others combined efforts, in 2015, the high school graduation rate rose to 82 percent for the first time in our nation’s history. However, much work remains and many stories remain untold.

Public media is utilizing today’s technology to provide content of value to millions of Americans. CPB strategically focuses its investments through the lens of what we refer to as the “Three D’s” —Digital, Diversity and Dialogue. This refers to support for innovation over multiple platforms; content that is for, by and about Americans of all backgrounds; and services that foster engagement between the American people and the public service media organizations that serve them.

Public media tells stories that are worth telling, worth watching and worth listening to. The Public Broadcasting Act ensures diversity in programming by requiring CPB to fund independent and minority producers. CPB fulfills this mission, in part, by funding the Independent Television Service, the five Minority Consortia entities in television (African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander), several public radio consortia (Latino Public Radio Consortia, African American Public Radio Stations, and Native Public Media) and numerous minority public radio stations. Moreover, CPB, through its Diversity and Innovation fund, makes direct investments in the development of diverse primetime and children’s broadcast programs as well as innovative digital content.

What further distinguishes the power of public media is that our mission directs us to serve every American—not only on-air or online, but face to face in our communities. More than 70 percent of CPB’s appropriation goes directly to local stations who work closely with their communities to best serve local interests and concerns. This allows public media to work in partnership with people of diverse backgrounds, ensuring that we are listening to and reflecting the changing story of America.

Facing the reality that many communities are losing local news coverage because of cutbacks in commercial journalism outlets, CPB is helping stations support the production of more local news content. Since 2009, CPB has invested more than $27 million to launch 22 local and regional newsroom collaborative operations. These partnerships connect 105 public media stations in 37 states, providing the basis for a vibrant multimedia network of high-quality journalism.

In the coming years, public media has an opportunity to help fill the widening substantive news gap left by weak local newspapers. CPB’s goal is to support and encourage public media organizations and producers to operate as a true news network – one that routinely works together to strengthen both the signature national programs and the local/regional news, reaching more of the American people more often on more platforms with more compelling journalism.

The work of public media goes well beyond broadcast. Public television and radio stations are increasingly effective partners with state and local public safety, law enforcement and first responder organizations—connecting these agencies with one another, with the public, and with vital data-casting capabilities in times of crisis.

Further, CPB is supporting stations, both financially and by defining best practices, so they can create more public-private partnerships, bringing more services and benefits to their communities. One example of this local public-private partnership is CPB’s Veterans Coming Home initiative. Stations and their partners are communicating veterans’ stories through award winning reporting, documentaries, and online content; convening local events such as town hall meetings that connect veterans with resources; and collaborating with local veterans’ organizations to identify services available to them.

Ever since the FCC set aside a block of spectrum exclusively for non-commercial educational use in 1953, public media has been efficiently utilizing this spectrum as a vehicle to serve families all across America. The FCC’s upcoming spectrum incentive auction and subsequent repacking process present a unique set of challenges for public media.

Unlike commercial broadcast stations, where auction decisions will be made at the corporate level, public television stations are locally owned and operated, so each station will directly incur the costs of the auction and repacking process. Not all of these costs will be covered by auction proceeds, nor is it certain that the $1.75 billion that Congress has set aside for repacking will be sufficient. Indeed, many stations that do not participate in the auction will still have to spend time and resources on the mandatory repacking process.

Finally, it must be understood that CPB will not receive any auction proceeds. Further, public broadcasting license holders that participate in the auction are not required to invest their proceeds in a public media service. The auction brings an air of uncertainty to public television service both in terms of future signal coverage and financial impact. The continued federal investment will help safeguard this valued service for all Americans.

Interconnection

Interconnection is the backbone of the public broadcasting system, delivering content every day from public media producers to the locally owned and operated public television and radio stations in communities throughout the country. Without it, there is no nationwide public media service. Congress recognized the need for an interconnection system in 1967 when it passed the Public Broadcasting Act. It has always funded the interconnection system, and has provided a separate appropriation for interconnection since fiscal year 1991.

As we near the expiration of our current interconnection system for both television and radio, CPB must plan for the next generation of interconnection. Technology and distribution systems have greatly evolved since Congress established its practice of funding interconnection. Today, an expansive range of technologies, including satellite, cloud and terrestrial broadband, is widely available to create the most cost effective and efficient means to distribute content to public broadcasting stations. We are grateful for Congress’s $40 million initial investment in the public broadcasting interconnection system in FY 2016 and would appreciate your continued support for this essential infrastructure.

Conclusion

Public media’s treasure trove of content and services is available to all Americans for about $1.35 per American per year. As a result of the federal investment, public media stations are able to connect to people’s lives in impactful ways—ensuring every child is ready to learn, every person has access to lifelong learning; every veteran can connect to resources and support; and every citizen has access to fact-based local, national and global journalism. We make the arts accessible to all Americans and provide emergency alert services for first responders. CPB ensures that 95 cents of every dollar it receives goes to support local stations and the programs and services they offer to their communities; no more than five cents of every dollar goes to the administration of funding programs and overhead.

CPB’s FY 2019 request of $445 million and FY 2017 requests of $50 and $25.74 million for interconnection and Ready To Learn, respectively, balance the fiscal reality facing our nation with our statutory mandate to provide a valuable and trusted service to all Americans. Today, the challenges we face are more complex than ever and require attention to education, innovation, and collaboration.

Public media has been inspiring and enriching our lives for nearly half a century, and Congress’ support of our request will allow stations to continue providing high-quality trusted content that educates, informs, and strengthens our civil society. Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, this is only part of the story of America’s public media system. Public media is truly a national treasure. I thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony and appreciate your consideration of our request for funding.