NYC public stations get federal help

WNET, WNYC only beneficiaries of $8.25 million aid package

New York public broadcasters WNET(TV) and WNYC-FM/ AM will be able to tap into $8.25 million the federal government has approved to rebuild towers and purchase equipment and transmitters to replace those lost when the World Trade Center collapsed after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) added an amendment to the Department of Defense's 2002 spending bill that authorizes "emergency expenses to respond to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States." The $8.25 million will be given to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce. NTIA will dole out the grants once WNET and WNYC-FM apply for the money. A tower site also must be chosen before the money can be distributed. The grants are part of NTIA's Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP), which helps fund public broadcasting projects.

According to John Lawson, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, the money is only for WNET and WNYC-FM. Estimates are that WNET will get $6.9 million and WNYC-FM will get the rest. WNET expects that fully rebuilding the towers will cost $33.3 million, Lawson says.

The money in the Schumer amendment may be just the start of federal aid to help get broadcasters back on the air in New York City. Kathleen Rae, director of government affairs for WNET, says the station has submitted a preliminary application to the PTFP program for $15 million. That money would cover costs related to transmitting from an alternative site at Alpine, N.J., getting facilities online at the Empire State Building and improving those facilities.

"It's been my understanding that New York did not get everything it was promised in this supplemental appropriation," she says, "and that there may be additional opportunities to work with members of Congress to seek additional funding."

Rae says representatives of the PTFP have visited WNET and its transmission sites. "They know what we need to do to restore full analog and digital transmission. The $15 million application didn't even address the new-tower issue, and we haven't done anything with respect to our digital transmission."

Rae says the New York delegation in Congress has supported WNET's efforts to get federal assistance and they're trying to get even more for public broadcasters. Whether New York's commercial broadcasters can do the same remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that they, too, are lobbying for federal assistance.