$5 bil pledge drive

Pubcasters seek trust fund to replace subsidies

WASHINGTON — In an effort to secure the future of public broadcasting while also ending the annual congressional debate over its federal subsidy, pubcasters put a bold proposal on the table Monday that would create a $5 billion trust fund for non-commercial television and radio.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting vice chairman Frank Cruz presented the recommendation at Monday’s meeting of the so-called Gore Commission, which will make recommendations on new rules for broadcasters in the digital era.

Cruz said pubcasters would use income from the trust fund to replace the annual federal subsidy and help finance the expensive transition to digital television.

Cruz, who was making the presentation on behalf of CPB, the Public Broadcasting Service and America’s Public Television Stations, said the trust fund could be created in part by commercial broadcasters who opt “to pay public broadcasters to fulfill part of their public interest obligations.”

In other words, commercial stations would be able to forgo some of their regulatory public interest requirements by contributing to the trust fund.

In addition, Cruz said, revenues from spectrum auctions could be deposited in the trust fund along with fees assessed when a commercial station is sold.

Another potential source of revenue could be fees collected by the government if broadcasters decide to use part of their digital spectrum for subscription services. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, broadcasters must compensate the government if they use their digital TV spectrum to create subscription services.

Cruz’s proposal is not the first time that someone has proposed creating a trust fund for broadcasters, and it is expected that House Telecommunications Subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) will make a similar recommendation next week to pubcasters meeting in Florida. However, it is not clear how much money Tauzin believes pubcasters need in their trust fund. Congress sets aside about $300 million annually for pubcasters.

Also at Monday’s meeting, members of the Gore Commission (officially known as the Advisory Committee on Public Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters) debated a plan to create a voluntary public interest code. The code would be modeled on the one once administered by the National Assn. of Broadcasters.