Feb 17, 2011

How's broadband availability in your community? Find out on the map

The Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) today (Feb. 17) unveiled the first public, searchable nationwide map of broadband Internet availability. In an announcement, NTIA said the data will support efforts "to expand broadband access and adoption in communities at risk of being left behind in the 21st century economy and help businesses and consumers seeking information on their high-speed Internet options."

Obama budget signals priority for public broadcasting, new press secretary says

New White House Press secretary Jay Carney indicated that President Obama puts a priority on noncommercial broadcasting funding, reports Broadcasting & Cable. Carney called the president's budget, released this week, a road map showing his priorities. A reporter asked Carney if the president saw a "universal American value" in public broadcasting, and he replied, "The budget represents his priorities, and I think you can read into that." President Obama's new budget increases funding for CPB from $430 million in FY11 to $445 million in 2012.

Both sides continue to speak out on value of pubcasting

Two more of the many opinion pieces circulating on public broadcasting funding:

On the side of public media, WGBH President Jon Abbott and his Boston colleague Charles Kravetz, g.m. of WBUR, say sacrificing money for public broadcasting will make little difference in America's budget woes. "Does the federal deficit need to be addressed? Of course," they write today (Feb. 17) in the Boston Globe. "But gutting public radio and public television is not the answer. Eliminating the government’s investment in public broadcasting would reduce the $1.5 trillion federal budget deficit by less than three ten-thousandths of one percent."

Stating the case against funding on his blog is Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), author of S. 178, which calls for elimination of CPB funding. "Shows like Sesame Street are multi-million dollar enterprises capable of thriving in the private market," he writes. "According to the 990 tax form all nonprofits are required to file, Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell received $956,513 – nearly a million dollars – in compensation in 2008. And, from 2003 to 2006, Sesame Street made more than $211 million from toy and consumer product sales. When taxpayer funding for public broadcasting ends, rest assured, Cookie Monster will still be fed."

Sesame Workshop, meanwhile, is declining press interviews on the funding fight, and referring reporters to a Feb. 15 statement on its website, which says in part: “At this critical time when we need to keep America competitive by maintaining a better grip on our nation's finances, we also must continue to provide resources for families of young children whose circumstances are under severe economic or other hardships. For these reasons, we believe it is critical that the Congress do its utmost to continue to provide maximum resources to CPB during this critical budget cycle.”

CR amendment to fund CPB tossed out due to point of order

The amendment from Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oreg.) restoring CPB funds to the Continuing Resolution under debate in the House was gavelled down on a procedural matter just before midnight last night (Feb. 16). Blumenauer's Amendment 436 would have provided $460 million in fiscal 2013 CPB funding by doing away with IRS tax breaks on oil or gas wells. Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) raised a point of order that the funding offset was not allowed; the Chair agreed.

"It’s not that Democrats tried to do something nonsensical here, it’s that Republicans have set up the rules to tie our hands," Blumenauer spokesman Derek Schlickeisen told Current. "If you’re going to offset the funding for CPB, you have to do it within the Labor-HHS bill, as opposed to anywhere else within the budget. That’s what Republicans objected to. This forces us to find the offset within a very narrow set of programs that families depend on and which are not wasteful."

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), author of H.R. 68 (to defund CPB) and H.R. 69 (to zero out NPR programming) funding, said he "personally enjoys some of the programming, but it's not the issue whether we like it or not. It's whether taxpayers should subsidize this, when [public broadcasters] are perfectly capable of surviving and thriving in the open market."

Nevertheless, supporters including Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) – who stood beside a poster of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie being handed a pink piece of paper reading, "GOPink Slip. You are fired." – continued speaking on the value of public broadcasting.

When Markey began discussing elimination of the the oil and gas deductions, he was met with an objection by Rehberg that Markey's time to speak had expired. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) yielded back one minute to Markey, who said the objection was understandable, as Rehberg supports those tax breaks. "This is a misallocation of resources to big oil instead of Big Bird," Markey said.

C-SPAN is estimating a final vote on the CR is "possible late today." Republicans are still trying to cut a total of $61 billion from the current fiscal year's budget.

To recap the funding picture for CPB at this point:

For 2011: If enacted, this CR would rescind any unobligated CPB funds for this year.

For 2012: The general CPB account for 2012 ($445 million, forward funded in FY10) is safe. A total of $86 million for specific items was cut (station economic stabilization, $25 million; digital upgrades, $36 million; and radio interconnection, $25 million).

For 2013: The FY11 request for FY2013 zeros out all public broadcasting support. The President’s request in FY11 (for 2013) was $460 million, and that was the amount in the draft appropriations bill for FY11 that Blumenauer sought to restore.