The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced six grants totaling more than $2.5 million Wednesday as part of its Public Television Digital Transition Grant program. “These investments will help public television stations serving substantially rural communities make the transition to digital broadcasts,” said USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Patrice Kunesh, who announced the grants in Bethel, Alaska. The FCC required all broadcasters to convert full-power transmitters to digital signals by June 2009, but stations have until 2015 to convert repeaters and low-power TV signals. The largest grant, $750,000, goes to the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority. The network will convert its television production studio in Charleston from analog to HD digital.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $3.2 million in grants to 10 pubTV operators serving rural areas, assisting with equipment upgrades that will replace aging equipment, strengthen broadcast signals, or build capacity for digital production. The USDA grants are earmarked for digital conversion and were awarded as part of a larger package of federal aid to 24 projects improving broadband access, telecommunications infrastructure and public TV’s digital broadcasts. Each of the pubTV operators have already converted their primary transmitters to digital. In some cases, the grants will help pay for upgrades of older, analog equipment, enhance their master control operations or strengthen their digital signals. Since the elimination of the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program, which backed technical upgrades of both public TV and radio stations until Congress zeroed it out in 2011, the USDA funds have become increasingly important for rural pubTV stations.