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Investing in the Future of Vermont PBS

Posted by  Wednesday, 05 Apr 2017 03:32 PM

President Trump recently released his “skinny budget,” in which he recommends defunding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, as well as many other American core cultural and educational institutions. While the “skinny budget” is just a recommendation and not a law, it should stir concern in those of us who value education and the arts. 

At nearly the same time, you may have heard that Vermont PBS recently announced the exciting news that it has sold one of its four broadcast licenses in a Federal Communications Commission-sponsored auction. The FCC conducted the auction to further its goals of improving mobile internet service by reallocating broadcast airwaves to wireless carriers. The FCC will compensate Vermont PBS for the license with a one-time payment of approximately 56 million dollars.

The sale of this spectrum license brings an opportunity to make a difference for Vermont in a media landscape that is being starved of accurate, unbiased, and timely information. 

As a trusted source of information and education, Vermont PBS provides a window to the world for all of us, which is especially important for those Vermonters who cannot access broadband or afford daily preschool, theatre tickets or trips to far-off places. It creates a way to connect us, no matter who or where we are, to other Americans, current affairs, international affairs, children’s education, science, drama, music, art and history.  

As we come up on our 50th anniversary this fall, we look back proudly on the public television resources we have brought to Vermont for decades – national programming as diverse as Sesame Street, Nova, Frontline, Austin City Limits, Downton Abbey and Antiques Road Show. But we also look with great pride on the shows we produce right here in our state – Vermont This Week, Outdoor Journal, Poetry Out Loud, Discover Jazz and, recently, Local Motive, and our Made Here series, which showcases work produced by local filmmakers.

In these local efforts, I see the most exciting possibilities for our future. If we are to enjoy mission-driven success for 50 years to come, we must invest in educational innovations for learners of all ages.  We must transform Vermont PBS into a statewide public media platform that supports vulnerable Vermonters and invests in Vermont’s education and economy.  We need our videography skill and state of the art video platform to tell our stories of innovation, community, culture and environment and to help tackle our state’s toughest challenges, like battling addiction, equal access to early learning programs and workforce development partnerships, to name a few.  We also envision that our video technology will help keep Vermont ahead of the curve in building inter-community connections for educational and civic engagement – growing the bedrock of democracy.

If we are to build transformative public media we cannot allow the one-time payment for the sale of our license to slip into our operating expenses and eventually exhaust the funds. Instead, we must invest the money in the future of our organization, consistent with our mission to educate, inform, entertain and inspire Vermonters as learners engaged in our communities. 

The affront to public media and the federal funding challenge of the skinny budget for other Vermont organizations will strain the already-pinched resources in our state—particularly those focused on social services, education and the arts. Make no mistake—the proposed defunding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could eliminate Vermont PBS’s critical operational funds and core programs, threatening the future development of Vermont PBS.  On the other hand, ongoing economic burdens affect the very Vermonters we seek to serve and pose fiscal challenges to the state. And so, according to our mission and purpose, Vermont PBS will respond as a trusted and compassionate neighbor. That means continuing delivery of our substantial and important educational resource to all Vermonters free of charge. And we will look to partner with like-minded organizations in our state to promote culture, art, education and the free flow of ideas in these challenging times.   

The money that we have raised through the sale of our license gives us an amazing opportunity to further this lofty vision. We hope Vermonters will embrace this exciting challenge and opportunity with us and participate hands-on in our planning process as Vermont PBS members. 

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