Federal Funding Keeps Oregon's Rural Communities Connected through Local Media
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) is the only media organization that ties together both the urban and rural parts of Oregon. OPB operates a television network of five full-power transmitters and 40 translators and a radio network of 15 transmitters and 18 translators. As a result, OPB is the only radio service that provides full-time news and information to Oregon residents from the Pacific Coast to the Idaho border.
Steve Bass, President & CEO of OPB, observes that OPB’s television and radio services are particularly valuable to Oregon’s rural communities: “OPB, and radio in particular, is a lifeline service for rural Oregonians. They listen, they value it and they contribute. It's also the backbone of the state's Emergency Broadcast System and Amber Alert System, and is the only source of local and regional news to rural residents of Oregon.”
Because of topography and distances between communities, providing service throughout rural areas of Oregon requires extensive – and expensive – broadcast infrastructure. The area east of the Cascades in Oregon, for example, is larger than the state of Florida with an average population density of about eight people per square mile. As a result, the cost of serving rural and remote communities is high and the population too sparse to provide enough financial contributions to fully support that cost.
Serving each home in Eastern Oregon is almost four times more costly than serving those in the Portland area. In Central Oregon, it’s more than three times more expensive.
Operating support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and capital support from the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (U.S. Department of Commerce) and Rural Utility Service (Department of Agriculture) are critical to OPB to providing equal access to those in both urban and rural areas of the region. The reduction or loss of this funding will seriously jeopardize that service.
Bass said: “What would we do if we lost this funding? A funding cut would be very problematic because this is the funding that enables us to operate in places where it is not economical for us to do so. So, with a funding cut we could be in a position where we would have to reduce service in rural communities.”
OPB also receives grants from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP) to purchase transmission and production equipment that serve the Eastern Oregon region. These grants require a 1:1 match from non-federal sources and have enabled OPB to expand its broadcast reach into rural areas. In the past five years, OPB has received nearly $1.4 million in PTFP grants to upgrade rural television translators, provide or upgrade FM service in Bend, Burns, and Baker City, upgrade equipment to allow continued production of programs like Oregon Field Guide, and more.
Occasional grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting have benefitted citizens of the Eastern Oregon in other ways:
- OPB’s Rural Economy project, supported by a grant of $80,000 from CPB, enabled OPB to tell the stories of rural entrepreneurs and small businesses in the midst of significant economic challenges.
- A $350,000 grant from CPB several years ago also helped OPB create the daily radio program, Think Out Loud, which focuses on regional issues with the specific goal of connecting urban and rural residents.
- A recent grant of nearly $1.5 million from CPB is creating a journalism center based at OPB in partnership with 6 other public broadcasting stations that will cover environmental technology, renewable energy, natural resources and sustainability. This journalism center will establish news bureaus in Southern Oregon and Eastern Washington in addition to Portland, Seattle, and Boise.