NPR distribution wing prepares request for interconnection upgrade

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Planning for the next interconnection system for public radio is entering the home stretch, with a formal proposal due to CPB by May.

The next upgrade to the Public Radio Satellite System will cost “somewhere north of $50 million,” said Mike Beach, v.p. of NPR Distribution, who discussed the plan during a Feb. 25 meeting of the NPR Board’s Distribution/Interconnection Committee. Leases on satellite transponders, paid for with the last infusion of federal money, expire in 2018.

Plans call for a satellite-based system much like the existing one, said Mike Riksen, v.p. of policy and representation, in an email to Current. The upgrade will provide “improved bandwidth efficiencies [made] possible using the latest advancements in technology.”

PRSS’s last upgrade, funded through annual congressional appropriations from 2008–2010, cost $78 million. The funds supported public radio interconnection for a ten-year period ending in 2018.

If federal funds aren’t secured by the beginning of fiscal year 2018 — Oct. 1, 2017 — “continuing the current service level of PRSS would be at serious risk,” Riksen said.

CPB is scheduled to present the PRSS proposal to its own board in June. If approved, the request for federal funding will be submitted to the White House for inclusion in its budget for fiscal year 2017, according to Caryn Mathes, president of KUOW in Seattle and chair of the D/I committee.

PRSS staff is working closely with CPB staff to finalize the proposal and “make sure it meets their needs,” Beach said during the meeting. Meanwhile, consultants from Cognizant Technology Solutions, which is advising CPB on interconnection upgrades for both public TV and radio, are completing their review of PRSS, Beach said.

“Ideally their report will be delivered about the same time as we finish our request” for CPB assistance, Beach told the D/I committee. Representatives of PRSS and Cognizant have been meeting to discuss public radio’s needs and appear to be thinking along the same lines, he said.

In a study of PBS’s proposed V6 interconnection system conducted last year, Cognizant recommended that NPR and PBS look for ways to consolidate network operations. The networks, along with CPB, continue to discuss the possibilities, according to Riksen.

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