col KSMQ funding assured

State to aid digital TV conversion

Thanks to the wisdom of the state Legislature, it appears Austin-based KSMQ-TV will be able to stay on the air beyond next spring without layoffs and massive cutbacks.

The public television station and its supporters had been holding their breath since November, when Gov. Jesse Ventura froze a total of $7.8 million in state grants to the state's 10 public TV stations.

The grants, which were expected to be matched by the federal government, are necessary to help KSMQ and the other stations meet a new federal requirement that all stations convert from analog to digital signals by May 1, 2003.

The conversion process will lead to some positive changes, according to broadcasting experts. The quality of digital images is higher than that generated through the 50-year-old analog process. Digital signals also take up less space on relaying equipment, freeing up room for cell phone service providers, among others.


But the conversion process is an expensive one. It will cost stations a combined estimated total of $1.7 billion, with each public station paying $2 million to $6 million, according to a report in Current, a national publication that focuses on coverage of public television and radio.

That means small stations with small budgets, such as KSMQ, could not make the conversion without government help and remain financially solvent.

Ventura last year signed a bill appropriating nearly $8 million in grants, including $860,000 for KSMQ, to help the state's public TV stations go digital. But the governor's administration froze the grants in November when state budget projections showed a massive shortfall over the next two years.

Public television was an easy target for Ventura, who said shortly after being elected that he does not believe public broadcasting outlets should be subsidized with state money.

He made that clear again last month when he vetoed a bill that included funding to public stations in the same amount appropriated last year for digital conversion. The governor said at the time the money would not provide "a sufficient return on (state government's) investment, particularly considering the communications gaps that exist in public safety and health."

The Legislature saw it differently, however. The House voted 113-20 to override the Ventura veto, and the Senate voted 53-5 in favor or the override.

The vote can only be viewed as an overwhelming and bipartisan endorsement of the educational and highly informative programming that KSMQ and other stations provide our state's residents. It's the type of programming that will never be offered by the corporately owned broadcast and cable networks.

At the same time, the vote is just another example of how Ventura is becoming more and more out of touch with mainstream Minnesotans.

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