February 13, 2007 - MARKEY ADDRESSES THE ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC TELEVISION STATIONS

On February 13, 2007, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet addresses the American Association of Public Television Stations conference. His prepared remarks follow:

Good Afternoon.  I want to thank John Lawson for his excellent leadership and for the invitation to speak this afternoon

It is a pleasure to be with you here this afternoon.  

As many of you know, a recent law creates a hard date of February 17, 2009, for the cessation of analog television broadcasts.  After that date all TV stations must broadcast solely in digital.  This will obviously have a major impact on public television stations and there is a significant consumer education mission which must be successful to ensure that consumers are prepared for the switch-over. 

As chairman of the Telecommunications and Internet Subcommittee, I will be working with full Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell and our committee colleagues to make sure that everything is being done that can be done to make the 2009 date a reality.  This will include oversight of the government agencies responsible for implementing aspects of the DTV transition as well as oversight of various industry stakeholders to ensure that companies and industries are taking the necessary steps to ensure as seamless a transition as possible. 

As television stands at the cusp of the digital television era, the broadcasting industry has an opportunity to reinvent television itself.  For public TV, with the versatility of the digital broadcast signal comes a plethora of new ways to think about television itself as a medium to serve your communities.  Coupled with the Internet and broadband networks, in the digital era public television will be able to avail itself of new means to reach viewers, as well as innovative ways by which parents, teachers, and kids can access the treasure trove of content that public TV possesses. 

This is why I am very excited and supportive of the proposed “American Archive” project.  Because public radio and television stations have such a rich tradition of documenting our national story, it is natural to want to harness the power of digital technology and telecommunications to preserve public broadcasting’s audio, film, and video history, and to make it available to the American people.  This is a project that is consistent with public broadcasting’s core mission.  As issues arise regarding the cost of digitization or intellectual property rights I am eager to work with public broadcasting to find solutions so that this project can become a success and a model for other institutions, such as museums and universities.

Digital television technology also holds much promise for public television to use multicasting technology.  Through multicasting, public television stations can utilize digital technology to broadcast not only one stream of high definition digital programming, but also multiple streams of standard definition digital television programming at a visual quality better than the current analog standard. Multicasting will allow public broadcasting stations to enhance the reach and diversity of high-definition, educational and children’s programming they provide to their local communities. 

In addition, local public television stations can also help to meet some of the public safety needs of the communities they serve through service as the backbone of a new, digital emergency alert system. 

In 1999, when Congress enacted the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act, I successfully offered an amendment permitting DBS companies, such as Echostar and DirecTV, to offer local broadcast signals in local television markets.  The Markey local-to-local amendment has resulted in a dramatic increase in DBS satellite subscribership to the point where today some 26 million people subscribe to the service.  The reason I fought to add the ability of DBS providers to offer local signals was to enhance competition to cable and to ensure that local broadcast television stations, which bring consumers local news and weather, local public affairs, and educational children’s programming, were seamlessly carried on DBS. 

Let me briefly address the Bush Administration’s recent proposed budget cuts to public broadcasting programs.  These are devastating cuts to a system that is highly valued by parents across America.  As many of you know, I helped lead the fight in the Congress last session against the previous cuts.  With Clifford the Big Red Dog, Maya and Miguel, -- and John Lawson at my side, we held a rally on Capitol Hill and helped defeat the cuts.  Public broadcasting continually receives high marks from voters in almost any poll taken.  And its support cuts across Republican and Democratic lines, as well as across racial, ethnic, and diverse socio-economic groups. 

Public broadcasting remains an electronic oasis for learning in what has been called the vast wasteland of commercial television.

In fact, if public broadcasting did not exist, we would be trying right now to invent it.  Why?  Well, one glance at what is on commercial over-the-air television this week is illustrative. 

Here’s just a short sampling of what is on during the day….

Beyond the spate of daytime soap operas, which are full of adult themes not appropriate for young children, there are also talk shows.  On the talk shows there are interviews with actors, musicians and other celebrities, again, often discussing adult themes.  In addition, the talk shows have segments this week on “beauty disasters exposed,” a “weight loss challenge update,” a show about “romantic vacations,” a segment on “teens in the sex trade,” a show about “women trapped inside their homes,” and one on “America’s worst hair.”

Ladies and gentlemen, there’s simply no comparison when you look over at public broadcasting.  On a typical local public broadcasting station, there’s a line-up of content during the day that is a parent or a teacher’s best friend…..for instance, on WGBH in Boston, or WETA here in Washington – and stations all across the country -- from 6am until 6pm, there are 12 hours of high quality kids shows.  Let me just read the lineup from a typical day…..

At 6am, there’s WGBH’s award-winning Between the Lions,
then Zoom, then Maya & Miguel, Arthur,  Berenstein Bears, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Dragon Tales, Barney and Friends, Sesame Street, and then Mister Rogers Neighborhood – which brings us to noontime. 

And then rather than soap operas in the afternoon, on public broadcasting the kids get to see Reading Rainbow, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Arthur, Postcards from Buster, Dragon Tales, Maya & Miguel,  and on and on with other quality educational shows all the way until we hit the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer at 6pm. 

There is simply no comparison.

In spite of this, the Bush Administration is proposing to cut public broadcasting funding and to undermine support for many of these children’s shows.  This comes in the aftermath of the resignation of the former Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), who failed to protect the integrity and independence of the public broadcasting system and instead, engaged in partisan activities that undermined this wonderful system. 

I hope we can look back at that period as a brief aberrational moment.  For the public broadcasting system has long been the crown jewel in our national media mix and you all do important work for our society by what you do and by what you do to protect it.  It is an oasis of culture and education in what former FCC Chairman Newt Minow once called the vast wasteland of commercial television.  I am confident that the Bush Administration’s proposed cuts will share the same fate as the previous threatened cuts and I will once again battle to ensure that these short-sighted budget proposals are quickly reversed.

Thank you again for the invitation to be with you today.