About Public TV
Public television stations have been serving America since the early 1950s, when the Federal Communications Commission reserved a portion of the broadcast spectrum for noncommercial educational purposes. KUHT-TV in Houston was the first public television station to go on the air, in 1952, and Alabama Public Television launched the first statewide public broadcasting network in 1955.
President Eisenhower proposed the first federal support for public television in the National Defense Education Act of 1958, to explore the power of television in improving instruction and student outcomes in elementary and secondary schools, and the Public Television Finance Act of 1962 provided federal funds to dramatically expand the number of public television stations in the United States.
In 1967, Congress passed the Public Broadcasting Act, establishing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and creating the modern public broadcasting system.
Today, the public television system is comprised of 170 licensees operating more than 350 public television stations across America and serving more than 98 percent of the American people. About half of these licensees are nonprofit community foundations. The rest are State, university and local school district licensees. All are locally owned, locally operated and locally oriented in their programming and community services, and all share a mission of serving everyone, everywhere, every day for free – including in places where no model for commercial success exists.
In addition to broadcasting high-quality PBS programming in every American community, America’s public television stations are committed to three essential public service missions: education, public safety and civic leadership.
Public television stations are educational institutions committed to lifelong learning for the American people. This work goes beyond the television, tablet or phone screen and begins with the most successful early childhood education ever devised and continues with unique classroom services and teacher professional development resources, high school equivalency preparation, workforce training and adult enrichment.
Public broadcasters have embraced their public safety mission and are focused on maximizing their broadcast spectrum to help keep the public safe in times of emergencies. Public television stations partner with federal, State and local public safety, law enforcement and first responder organizations — connecting these agencies with one another, with the public and with life-saving datacasting services.
Public television regards its viewers as citizens rather than consumers. Public television stations are committed to thorough and thoughtful historical and public affairs programming that provides all Americans with a better understanding of their communities, our country and America’s place in the world. Public television stations help citizens and communities understand the issues they face locally and regionally — enabling them to develop solutions based on facts and civil discourse and rooted in community partnerships.
Public broadcasting is an effective public-private partnership. The federal investment in public broadcasting amounts to an annual cost of about $1.35 for each American. This investment compares with $63 per citizen in Japan, $84 in Great Britain.
For the 14th consecutive year, the American people have rated public broadcasting as the nation’s most trusted institution among nationally known organizations and one of the best values for tax dollars, second only to military defense. This trust extends across the political spectrum: majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans alike have positive opinions of public broadcasting and support federal funding for it in overwhelming numbers.
This federal funding is the lifeblood of public broadcasting, providing critical seed money to local stations which leverage each $1 of the federal investment to raise over $6 in non-federal financial resources, resulting in a highly successful public-private partnership.
President Reagan praised documentary filmmaker Ken Burns for creating such a funding partnership for his landmark public television series The Civil War, and for his commitment to preserving the national memory.
This successful public broadcasting public-private partnership directly supports nearly 20,000 jobs, and almost all of them are in local public television and radio stations in hundreds of communities across America.
Public television educates people of all ages, saves American lives and empowers America’s citizens.