Telecommunications:

Issues Related to Federal Funding for Public Television by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

GAO-04-284: Published: Apr 30, 2004. Publicly Released: May 21, 2004.

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For fiscal year 2002 (the most recent data), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting provided about 16 percent of public television's revenues of $1.63 billion. GAO agreed to review the statutory allocations for federal funding of public television, the Corporation's distribution of funds through its Community Service Grant and Television Future Fund programs, its distribution of funds for the Public Broadcasting Service's National Program Service and for local programming, and its grant programs for assisting public television's transition to digital technologies and services.

By statute, 75 percent of the Corporation's annual federal funding for public television is to be distributed among licensees of public television stations, and 25 percent is to be available to the Corporation for the support of national public television programming. In our survey of all 176 licensees, of which 85 percent responded, more than three-fifths favored maintaining the current allocations. Of those favoring a change, most proposed an increase in the allocation for distribution among licensees. The Corporation uses Community Service Grants as the primary means of distributing funding to licensees. Most licensees were generally satisfied with the recent consultation process for reviewing the eligibility criteria for these grants. Another program, the Television Future Fund, awarded grants to projects designed to reduce licensees' operational costs and enhance revenues. Only about 40 percent of the licensees indicated that these projects had resulted in practical methods to help their stations, and only about 30 percent agreed with the Corporation's approach of using funds designated for distribution among licensees to partly support these projects. In our legal view, the use of such funds for this purpose is not consistent with the statutory authority under which the Corporation operates. The Corporation provides an annual grant to the Public Broadcasting Service to help fund a package of children's and prime-time programming that make up the National Program Service. Most licensees favored continuation of the Corporation's funding, noting that this national programming helps them meet their educational and cultural missions and build community support for their stations. Licensees also indicated that local programming is important in serving their communities. However, most responded that they do not produce enough local programs to meet their communities' needs, and many cited a lack of funds as the reason. About 85 percent of the licensees responding to our survey indicated that the congressionally mandated transition from analog to digital broadcasting will improve their ability to provide local services to their communities. The Corporation has received appropriations to help support this transition since fiscal year 2001. In consultation with licensees, the Corporation has used these funds to provide licensees with grants for acquiring digital transmission equipment. Some grantees, however, did not receive their awards in time to meet FCC deadlines for the construction of digital transmission facilities. In addition, the Corporation received only a few grant applications during the latter part of 2003. Our survey indicates that most licensees' priorities now involve other aspects of the transition, some of which (including digital production equipment and development of digital content) were not included in the scope of the grant programs. The Corporation is also seeking funds for digitally based infrastructure improvements for distributing public television programming to stations and is working with public television stakeholders to develop a strategic plan that includes the creation of digital content.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matter for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: If the Congress supports the concept of using funds that were designated for distribution among licensees to finance the Television Future Fund program, it may wish to provide the Corporation with the authority to use the funds for this purpose.

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: No Congressional action was needed due to the fact that the Corporation decided to terminate the Future Fund Program.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: Before making further Television Future Fund awards or expending any funds in the Television Future Fund account, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting should request specific statutory authority to do so, if it intends to continue using funds that were designated for distribution among licensees. Should this specific authority not be obtained, the Corporation should return to the licensees such funds remaining in the Television Future Fund account that came from the funds designated for distribution among licensees.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for Public Broadcasting

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corporation has decided to end the Future Fund.

    Recommendation: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting should broaden the scope of its digital transition funding support to include digital production equipment and digital content.

    Agency Affected: Corporation for Public Broadcasting

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Implemented for 2005 funding round.

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