IPTV manager sounds warning about a rural blackout

Nick Draper
January 28, 2010
Idaho Falls Post Register

BOISE -- Idaho Public Television could quit broadcasting to rural Idaho and discontinue three channels if taxpayer funding is removed from the agency's budget.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed phasing out state general funding for IPTV over four years, starting with $387,000 when fiscal year 2011 starts July 1.

Otter has said he wants IPTV to be operated like a self-sustaining business and rely on viewer contributions and federal funding to pay for its operations.

But Peter Morrill, IPTV's general manager, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that losing taxpayer support, which makes up a quarter of IPTV's overall budget, will come with consequences.

"These (general) funds are some of the most difficult funds to replace," Morrill said during his budget presentation to JFAC, the Legislature's budget-writing body. "We would have to focus our services more on the population centers of the state."

Public television probably would remain on the air in heavily populated areas, such as Idaho Falls, Pocatello and Boise.

If the Legislature follows Otter's recommendation, though, several cuts would have to take place:

* Forty-one of IPTV's 42 repeaters would no longer broadcast programming to rural parts of the state, including the programming provided by the device on Menan Butte.

* About one-third of the IPTV staff, or 20 employees, would be laid off.

* From $1 million to $2 million would have to be paid back to the federal government, which provided grants for rural equipment that would no longer be in use.

* The station's Learn/ Create Channel, World Channel and 24-hour Kids and Families Channel would be canceled.

"Three of our channels would go away," Morrill said.

At a news conference after his State of the State address, Otter said dwindling tax revenue prompted him to recommend cutting general-fund spending to IPTV. But he also said it has enough viewers to financially support its operation.

"It has a lot of value, and I think it has a lot of constituency that is willing to support it," Otter said Jan 11.

Morrill, however, told JFAC that his agency already tries to obtain as many federal grants and viewer contributions as it can.

"We don't think we've left too much money on the table," Morrill said. "We've not been doing a slacker job."

JFAC, and the Legislature as a whole, won't decide IPTV's fate until later this session, but many eastern Idaho residents have already weighed in on the issue to their elected officials.

Sen. Dean Mortimer and Rep. Erik Simpson, both Idaho Falls Republicans, said they've received numerous e-mails from constituents saying not to alter IPTV's funding structure.

Mortimer, who sits on JFAC, doesn't have a stance yet on the IPTV issue, although he said he doesn't like the idea of eliminating rural programming.

"I would be concerned about that," he said.

Reporter Nick Draper can be reached at 317-7720. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.

Originally posted at http://www.postregister.com/story.php?accnum=1004-01282010&today=2010-01-28

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