The Corporation for Public Broadcasting

There has been a lot of discussion recently concerning federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The CPB is a non-profit, private organization created by the federal government in 1967, and is charged with the stewardship of federal funds for promoting public broadcasting. The lion's share of these funds are awarded to local television and radio broadcasters. A much smaller portion of those funds is awarded to companies like National Public Radio (NPR) and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Both of these companies are private, non-profit media enterprises that generate content such as Car Talk, All Things Considered, Radiolab, Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, NOVA, and others.

According to CPB's 2009 Revenue report, the CPB had total revenue of $2,643,336,000. Of that total revenue, 81.9% came from non-federal sources, leaving 18.1% of the CPB's revenue coming from federal sources, or $478,443,816. In 2007, there were roughly 138 million federal tax payers in the US (the most recent number I could find). We don't all pay the same amount in taxes in the US, but if we did, that would work out to just under $3.47 from every federal tax payer going to the CPB.

Two of the biggest issues in politics today (or any day for that matter) are taxes and jobs. The tea party, and by extension republicans, have suggested that eliminating federal funding for the CPB is one method to help reduce overall taxation and move towards a balanced budget. This has met with a mixed response across party lines. Fans of NPR and PBS have expressed concern, and have taken to social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook to plead for continued federal support of these organizations.

In my view, the majority of those pleading for continued support of the CPB are doing so because they enjoy the programming provided by NPR and PBS. I don't have any numbers to back this up, I'm basing this off of what I'm seeing from my social media streams, so this is hardly a scientific analysis. What may not be clear to these fans of NPR and PBS is how little of those federal funds are appropriated to the media enterprises. According to the CPB's Fiscal Year 2010 budget, $28,535,000 was allocated towards radio programming grants. According to NPR's records, federal grants make up around 2% of their annual revenue, which in 2010 were just over $184 million. So doing the math here, NPR received around $3.7 million in federal funds. Television is a similar scenario. The CPB allocates $71,587,500 in grants for television programming. I had trouble finding information on the portion of those grants that were awarded to PBS, but even if it is the full amount it represents a small percentage of the $571 million in total revenue that PBS received in 2010.

The funding to NPR and PBS represents a very small portion of the total funds the CPB distributes. The vast majority of funds are given as grants to local radio and television broadcasters. This is where the real impact of de-funding the CPB would be felt. By de-funding the CPB many broadcasters in rural locations who could not otherwise support their operations will go silent. These rural broadcasters are often one of only a handful of sources available in their area. Growing up, we didn't have access to cable at our home, as our home was in a very rural location. Satellite television involved very large dishes, not the Dish Network and DirecTV that you see today. The stations we could regularly receive at our home were our local PBS station, NBC, ABC, and CBS. Our home was certainly not as remote as what you might find in states farther north and west.

Given this analysis, I don't have a big problem with revoking funding to content producers, such as NPR and PBS. These media enterprises receive a very small portion of the federal funds allocated to the CPB. While any reduction in revenue is painful, to those pleading for continued funding based on their love of the programming, I say, make a bigger donation! I highly doubt that the revocation of funds to either of these media enterprises will result in the end of Sesame Street or Click'n'Clack. However, I do feel that the CPB provides an important service to Americans who do not represent a profitable investment to major network broadcasters. I do feel that revoking funds to local public broadcasters very likely might mean the difference between them staying on air or going off air. I do support the continued funding of these local broadcasters, and I hope that the CPB continues to receive funding to support them.

However, I hope that the CPB's mission is modified. Radio, in my opinion, is a medium on the death march. When do you listen to broadcast radio? At the home? Likely not. In your home, you are much more likely to be watching television or browsing the web. In your car? Maybe, or you might be listening to satellite radio, or your MP3 player. At work? Again, there has been a major shift towards streaming content over the web by office workers. Television, too, is not the media powerhouse it once was. I believe that the CPB's mission should be modified to help meet the president's call to improve broadband internet service to every American. By using the CPB's funding to retrofit local broadcasters with LTE data services (or some other data technology) more Americans will have ready access to broadband internet service. This will provide more than just a public media outlet, it provides access to the wealth of content on the web.


Jade Mason