USDA grants back equipment upgrades at 10 rural pubTV stations

By Ben Mook

KET’s main control. The Lexington, Ky., station was one of 10 recipients of USDA grants to upgrade aging infrastructure. (Photo: KET)

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.

The largest of the USDA grants went to Maine Public Broadcasting Corp., which has office and studio locations in Bangor, Lewiston and Portland. The state network received $750,000, the maximum grant amount allowed under the program. The funds will back replacement of 26 analog microwave transmitters and 28 microwave receivers.

“The fact we could replace our aging, analog system with new digital communication gear is immense,” said Mark Vogelzang, president of Maine Public Broadcasting. “We simply did not have the money and it would have been very difficult to repair or replace this system without this grant.”

Kentucky Authority for Educational Television (KET) received $690,000, the second-highest grant amount, to  install  top-mounted antennas and associated transmission lines on two of its full-power  transmitters in eastern Kentucky. The upgrade will strengthen the broadcast signals of both of the transmitters.

KET’s broadcast signal stretches from Kentucky to parts of seven surrounding states via 16 transmitters. The state netw0rk programs three digital channels and has a weekly viewership of 890,000, according to its website.

Alaska’s Capital Community Broadcasting Inc. received a grant of $483,000 to complete its digital transition by converting to a digital master control and purchasing new production  equipment.  Capital Community Broadcasting operates KTOO in Juneau, which serves southeast Alaska. It also operates a full-time cable and satellite TV channel, 360 North, providing coverage of the state legislature.

Other grant recipients include:

• Vincennes University,  Indiana – a grant of $355,000 to convert master-control monitoring equipment and portable, off-site equipment needed to to produce local programming in high-definition. The grant assists WUVT, a PBS station serving southwestern Indiana.

• University of Central Missouri – $269,069 to upgrade the studio-to-transmitter microwave link and  purchase digital satellite receivers for master control operations at KMOS in Warrensburg. This equipment supports production and broadcast of digital programming for rural central Missouri residents.

• Redwood Empire Public Television, Inc. – $230,154 for a new digital translator and a high-definition video server for KEET in Eureka, Calif.

• West Central Minnesota Educational Television Company– $224,000 to upgrade remote production equipment at Pioneer Public TV, which includes KWCM in Appleton and KSMN in Worthington.

• Sistema Universitario Ana G. Mendez, Inc., Puerto Rico – $210,590 to purchase digital production equipment. The private university operates WMTJ/SiTV, the only station providing PBS programming on the island.

• Idaho Public Television – $47,870 to build a fiber cable link between the KISU-DT transmitter building in East Butte and the Idaho Public Safety Community Network. The cable will enhance the signal from KISU’s transmitter as well as the network’s 18 translators serving Eastern Idaho.

• Guam Educational Telecommunications Corporation – $4,000 to purchase signal monitoring equipment for KGTF, the PBS station serving Guam.

Additional grants went to several broadband and telecom companies that will bolster telephone and high-speed Internet access in rural areas. Click here for the complete list of recipients.

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