Taking a look at IdahoPTV

Nate Sunderland
January 29, 2010
Rexburg Standard Journal

Is there a future for Sesame Street in Idaho?

Many locally and throughout the state hope so. In the past week, Idaho residents have banded together in opposition of Gov. C.L "Butch" Otter's plan to phase out all state funding for Idaho Public Television.

In the upper valley, many people are reacting negatively to Otter's plan to cut $1.6 million from IPTV over the next four years.

In a random polling of 30 people in Rexburg, 83 percent told the Standard Journal that they did not agree with Otter's plan to eliminate funding to IPTV. And the Standard Journal's online poll, which received 91 votes through Friday afternoon, 59 percent said they also disagreed with Otter's plan.

"Its got a lot of good programming on it that you can't get through other cable -- it's important," said Wylette Stewart of Rexburg, who participated in our poll.

Ron Weekes, a professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho who specializes in broadcasting and who has worked nationally for public television, says that funding for IPTV is important because it provides a unique service.

"I think (public television) has a positive effect on our culture, the reason being that the programming on public television -- both on local stations and on national public television -- can't be found on your commercial television networks," said Weekes. He said he didn't think that much of the content found on public television would be marketable on a commercial station.

People across the state are saying the same things -- that Idaho Public Television offers all Idahoans a unique product. One group, Friends of IPTV, has mounted a Web campaign to oppose Otter's plan.

"The people of Idaho have devoted significant resources over a long period of time to build a statewide IPTV system that is able to provide tremendous value to Idahoans and reach every corner of the state, particularly the rural areas of Idaho that often receive too little attention," said former Superintendent of Public Education Jerry Evans, who represents the campaign.

"While we all appreciate the significant budget pressure faced by the Legislature, we don't believe the proposed phase out of state support will serve the long-term best interests of Idahoans."

Friends of IPTV is encouraging all Idaho residents to contact their legislators to express their concerns.

But despite the strong opposition, is there some merit to Otter's plan?

Otter has said that IPTV should not be supported by the government but rather be driven by the market. According to The Associated Press, Otter said, "'Government TV' has outlived the day when it was needed to connect Idaho's disparate northern, southern and eastern reaches divided by geography and culture."

When the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created by the federal government in 1967 to introduce public television, its primary purpose was transmitting educational and cultural resources, and the support of public telecommunications for the local and federal government.

But in an age where access to educational resources is readily on the Internet, and nearly every government agency has a Web site, is Idaho Public Television even useful for the general population with tools like the Internet being so readily available?

Several of those polled by the Standard Journal didn't think so and expressed some anger at using taxpayer money for the stations. Others said they were "OK" with Otter's cuts simply because they didn't watch public television.

But regardless of whether its useful or even widely used by Idahoans, if Otter's plan goes forward it will have a significant impact in Idaho. His plan calls for cuts of approximately $380,000 per year. The results, according to The Associated Press, would trim IPTV's coverage by almost 300,0000 Idahoans as rural broadcast towers are dismantled and smaller IPTV stations are closed. And if even one of the five IPTV stations is closed, it could mean dozens of lost jobs.

So what are the options?

It's common knowledge that the state budget is tight and that cuts are going to be made.

One suggestion was made by Republican State Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, during a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee meeting on the subject on Wednesday. He suggested that the station sell commercial spots.

However, Siddoway's idea was shot down because federal law prohibits public television stations from selling commercial advertising.

According to Weekes, one idea might be a fee increase for underwriting credits.

Slightly different then commercial advertising, an underwriting credit refers to a financial sponsorship of a program or televised event in which an organization pays for a portion of IPTV's service in exchange for a mention of their product or service.

Weekes says that for the present time, public television all across the nation still fills an important role.

"PBS, besides providing entertainment, provides a great educational resource for our children and grandchildren," said Weekes. "The governor is already cutting education and I'd hate to see him cut public television, just for the educational factor."

In addition to state funding, IPTV also receives funding from donors through fundraisers, as well as large grants from the federal government.

NATE SUNDERLAND

nsunderland@uvsj.com


Originally posted at http://www.rexburgstandardjournal.com/articles/2010/01/29/news/42.txt

The News Story posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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