Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at The 2016 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Sunday, February 21, 2016. Please take a moment to watch the video of this address.

In 2011, the newly-elected Republican majority in the United States House of Representatives voted to defund public broadcasting.

In 2012, they proposed another zero.

In 2013, zero.

2014: zero.

In 2015: $445 million.

Also in 2015, the newly-elected Republican majority in the United States Senate voted to fund public broadcasting at the identical level of $445 million.

The Senate Budget Committee voted to continue the advance-funding mechanism for public broadcasting – one of a handful of such programs left in the government – and the House Budget Committee went along.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions voted unanimously to reauthorize the Ready To Learn program -- through which public television teaches America’s youngest citizens and helps close the achievement gap between the rich and poor.

Again, the House education committee went along.

The Republican majority in the Senate Appropriations Committee then voted to approve $25.7 million in continued funding for Ready To Learn.

And the House Appropriations Committee went along.

And in what may have been the heaviest lift of all, the Republican majority in the Senate and House Appropriations Committees voted to approve $40 million in “new money” as a down payment on a next-generation interconnection system for public broadcasting.

All of this happened in an environment of toxic politics, legislative gridlock and fiscal severity in which total discretionary spending for agencies funded by our Labor-H appropriations bill was being targeted for a $3.5 billion reduction.

The discipline is so harsh that congressional appropriators are now saying that “flat funding is the new increase” – yet public broadcasting is actually receiving “new money.”

Any way you look at it, 2015 was a very good year for public broadcasting in the Congress of the United States.

Recounting all this progress today, it sounds so easy and pre-ordained.

But it wasn’t.

The serene story of success I’ve just recited masks some epic battles fought all along the way to these remarkable results.

When we began this process more than a year ago, we weren’t even sure the Obama Administration would go along with all of these funding requests.

For six years, the Administration had declined to propose specific funding for Ready To Learn, reasoning that the program was too small to stand alone and recommending that its funding be consolidated with other early-childhood education initiatives.

The chairman of the Senate HELP Committee, Lamar Alexander, went even further, and proposed in his original draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act to send all of that early-childhood money to the states, to use as 50 Governors and state legislatures saw fit.

The House Education and Labor Committee proposed to do away with Ready To Learn altogether, and the House Appropriations Committee voted originally to eliminate all its funding.

The House Budget Committee proposed to do away with our two-year advance funding – and also recommended that all of our funding be zeroed out.

There were many in the Republican majority of the Senate Budget Committee who, in the early going, favored this course as well.

And at the beginning of this process, no one – including our best friends in Congress – thought we’d be able to get a dime of interconnection funding, much less $40 million.

What happened to turn the tide was a textbook case of effective advocacy involving:

  • all of you;
  • hundreds of thousands of grassroots activists and grasstops leaders;
  • millions of our fellow citizens who clearly value the programs and services of public broadcasting;
  • and an exceptional team of professionals here in Washington;

who together transformed defeat into victory in a pivotal year for public broadcasting in America.

I’m proud of you all, and grateful to each of you, but I want to thank especially our intrepid team of advocates here at APTS who led this charge and secured these stunning results.

Please join me in congratulating Jen Kieley, Will Glasscock, Cait Beroza, Derry Earle, and their impressive new leader Kate Riley.

In 2015, they created and managed an advocacy strategy that took full advantage of every resource we have in public television, and it worked.

We enlisted Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to sponsor a bipartisan amendment to preserve Ready To Learn.

And thousands of Protect My Public Media grassroots calls later, that amendment passed the Senate education committee by a unanimous vote.

When Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona threatened to offer an amendment on the Senate floor to reverse this committee vote, tens of thousands of Protect My Public Media advocates alerted their Senators – and the Flake amendment was withdrawn.

With the help of dozens of general managers, board directors and APTS Leadership Council members, we turned the Budget Committees around on the issue of advance funding.

And when it came to the interconnection, the most important call we had to make was on the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- happily for us, a long-time Champion of Public Broadcasting – Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi.

We also owe our dramatic reversal of fortune in the House Appropriations Committee to the new chairman of its Labor-H subcommittee, Congressman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who replaced the zeroes his two predecessors had suggested for us with his own proposal of $445 million.

We will present Chairman Cole with our Champion of Public Broadcasting award at the conclusion of this Summit on Tuesday, and he has richly earned it.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the new chairman of the Senate Labor-H appropriations subcommittee, performed similarly heroic service in support of public broadcasting, as a new and true believer in our mission of public service.

While he is unable to join us for the Summit this year, we intend to honor Senator Blunt with our Champion award in 2017.

The even more encouraging news is that Congressman Cole and Senator Blunt are not lonely profiles in courage for the cause of public broadcasting, but rather leaders of a growing cohort of Republican supporters on both sides of Capitol Hill.

After years of painstaking effort and relentless education about the real work we do, we now count a majority of Republicans on both our House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees as supporters of public television.

We have also made great progress in the past year with the education committees of the Congress, reminding them that public television is truly America’s largest classroom -- and the most amazing and cost-effective educational resource in the history of the country.

The commerce committees of Congress, which have jurisdiction over the Public Broadcasting Act, the FCC, the spectrum auctions and the future of broadcasting itself, are also engaged with public television as never before.

We are making impressive inroads with the homeland security committees on Capitol Hill, where our work in public safety, emergency communication, and the presidential alert system has been a welcome revelation.

Our dealings with the House and Senate budget committees on the advance funding issue have also given us the opportunity to demonstrate that the federal investment in our work is the best bargain in the budget – by far.

The combination of these federal lawmakers is large and enormously influential, and it extends all the way across the political and ideological spectrum of the Congress.

It’s almost 80 Senators and more than 200 Representatives to whom we pay special attention, and turning this combination into a true coalition for public broadcasting -- along with allies we’ve already won -- is the strategy we pursue every day here in Washington.

It’s a strategy founded on our three pillars of public service:  education, public safety and civic leadership.

Our education mission begins with the iconic PBS KIDS programming that everyone knows and loves, and it continues with the celebrated works of Ken Burns, American Experience, NOVA, Nature, Great Performances and more.

But what is often real news – and good news -- to lawmakers is the work we do beyond the television screen.

They love PBS LearningMedia, which has now registered 1.8 million teachers, who serve 40 million students every day, with more than 100,000 standards-based, curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning objects, adapted from the best of public television and the extraordinary resources of the Library of Congress, National Archives and other historic, cultural and scientific institutions.

They are impressed with our virtual high schools that bring world-class specialized instruction to the most remote areas of our country.

They admire our American Graduate program that has helped raise high school graduation rates to historic highs.

They appreciate the fact that we run the largest nonprofit GED program in America, giving hundreds of thousands of second-chance learners an opportunity to transform their lives and contribute much more to our society and our economy, as well as their own families.

And they are intrigued by our emerging capability in job training and workforce development, providing the skills specifically needed in markets throughout America.

This is true lifelong learning – the oldest dream and first mission of public television – and it is working today better than ever before.

We will be honored this afternoon to welcome the senior White House education advisor to the President of the United States, Roberto Rodriguez, who will share his -- and the President’s -- vision of American education in the 21st century, and public television’s role in it.

Public safety, our second mission, is also a strength of public television that is more than a pleasant surprise to public officials.

Our service as the backbone of the system that allows the President of the United States to communicate with his fellow citizens in times of national emergency is welcome news in every congressional office, no matter its party or ideology.

And our growing capacity to link law enforcement and emergency management organizations with one another, and with the public, at the local and state levels through datacasting, makes powerful arguments for public television – with everyone, on issues ranging from federal funding to spectrum policy.

The 61st Mayor of Houston, Texas, Annise Parker – who is also a member of the board of FirstNet, the new federal public safety network -- will be with us this afternoon to tell us more about the transformation we in public television can expect in public safety in the years just ahead.

Civic leadership, the final pillar, encompasses everything from our service as the “C-SPAN” of state governments to our role as hosts of the most objective and comprehensive political debates in America.

Civic leadership also incorporates local journalism, documentaries preserving local history and culture, and our extraordinary array of local public affairs programming.

We will be joined shortly by a pretty good local journalist here in Washington -- Marty Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post – who will tell us the remarkable story of the Post’s success in adapting to the digital age, reaching new heights in quality journalism, and reinventing its entire business model.

It’s been well said that we treat our viewers as citizens rather than consumers, and we take very seriously our mission to equip the citizens of the world’s greatest democracy with the information they need to govern themselves effectively and successfully.

This commitment to civic leadership, like education and public safety, attracts support among Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and everybody in between, in Washington and in state capitals alike.

The more you can say about your work in these fields at the local level, the warmer your reception will be in every office on Capitol Hill.

And the better you can document the return on the federal investment in public television in your community – the last bastion of local control in American media – the more you will gladden even the most conservative heart in Congress.

The constant repetition of these public service missions explains the extraordinary progress we have made among Republican appropriators in recent years – and it reinforces our confidence that Republicans on the education, homeland security, commerce, and budget committees (among others) will see things our way sooner or later.

And lest we forget: we have enjoyed the support of every Democrat in Congress on every vote since I’ve been here, and we never want to take their support for granted. When you see them on Tuesday, please thank them.

But we meet in an election year, and we know that none of the gains we have made is permanent, but all are dependent on the shifting sands of American politics.

We will have a new President in 2017 – and a new FCC, not chaired by Tom Wheeler.

We will have new chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Commerce Committee.

We may have a new Senate majority.

And if what is past is prologue, we will continue to see substantial turnover throughout the ranks of Congress, where nearly half the current members of the House and Senate have served for six years or less.

So it’s essential that we continue the incessant education of Congress, the White House, the FCC, the Departments of Education, Labor, Commerce and Homeland Security, the news media, and everyone else who matters to us, about the true nature and great value of the work we do.

This very much includes the state Capitols, where 75 percent of members of today’s Congress got their starts – and which invest $200 million in public broadcasting every year.

This is, indeed, a turning point for public media, not only in terms of our political prospects but also in the context of the spectrum auctions that will commence next month, a new broadcast standard that the FCC may approve later this year, and a host of new service and revenue opportunities that the evolution of technology holds in store for us in years to come.

Making the most of this turning point -- getting ready for the future of public media – is the theme and the work of this Summit.

The work begins with the funding requests we will make on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Impressive as our success was in 2015, we have to do all of it, all over again, in 2016.

As President Obama did three weeks ago, we will ask the Congress for:

  • Level funding of $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Level funding of $25.7 million for Ready To Learn.
  • And $50 million for the second installment on our new-generation interconnection system.

The first two requests are pretty straightforward, and Kate Riley and her legislative team will take you through the specifics of these requests tomorrow morning.

The third request -- for another $50 million for interconnection – is no longer strictly “new money,” thanks to our success last year.

But it is an increase we’re asking for, and that’s never easy – especially in a budgetary environment like this one.

The case Congress wants to hear is this:

  • how interconnection benefits their constituents, especially in rural areas;
  • how it advances our public service missions – especially in education and public safety;
  • and how we are taking advantage of technology to lower our costs while enhancing our service.

More broadly, the case we want to make – to Congress, to the FCC, and to everyone else – about public television is this: 

  • that we are providing essential, highly valued public services;
  • that we are constantly looking for new ways to provide those services more effectively and efficiently;
  • and that we embrace the spirit of the pioneer and the public servant in everything we do.

This very case may mark a cultural turning point for some veterans of public television, but in truth it returns us to our roots as a laboratory for experimentation in the use of media to serve the public interest.

This was the rationale by which President Eisenhower requested the first federal funds for public television in the National Defense Education Act of 1958.

And it is just as valid, and as useful, as we contemplate spectrum auctions, a new broadcast standard, and the promise of technologies to come in 2016 and beyond.

The spectrum auctions begin just over a month from now, and we’ve spent four years helping our stations and our system get ready for them.

The co-chair of the FCC Spectrum Auctions Task Force will be with us tomorrow to provide last-minute details and information in advance of the auction.

And the chief of the FCC Media Bureau will be here to tell us about the joys of repacking and what lies beyond this troublesome transition.

I do not know how many public television stations will participate in the auction, or how they will participate, or exactly what our system will look like after the auction.

But I do know this:

Public television viewers in one market after another have crowded town halls and even taken to the streets, to proclaim in no uncertain terms that, whatever the price their spectrum might fetch in the FCC auction, they consider public television a “priceless” asset in their communities.

That’s affection that money literally can’t buy. It’s a validation of everything you’ve been doing, every day, for years. It’s as close as you’re going to come on this earth to hearing someone say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” 

And it’s about time you heard it.

We are ready for these auctions, and we are ready thanks in no small part to the fortitude, patience, wit, wisdom and extraordinary expertise of one person in this room.

And while I know we’re in a “quiet period,” I hope you’ll join me right now in a decidedly un-quiet “thank you” to the priceless Lonna Thompson.

In her spare time, Lonna has also negotiated an extension of our carriage agreement with Verizon.

And I am delighted to announce today that we are renewing our carriage agreement with the cable industry, as well.

We’ve reached these agreements, prepared for these auctions, protected our public funding, and done a hundred other impossible things in an environment that is changing and challenging every day.

There are many in official Washington who believe broadcasting itself is a thing of the past, and they’re more than ready to assign our spectrum to shiny new contenders for the public’s attention.

We will hear tomorrow from the president of the National Association of Broadcasters, Gordon Smith, who has a decidedly different view. And I can’t wait to welcome him.

And we will hear at a special dinner tonight from some of the best public broadcasters in the world, our friends at NHK in Japan, who can show us the way to a successful tomorrow.

A flood of technological innovation, beginning with the new ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, is about to sweep the past away and carry us to a future full of new service and revenue opportunities.

The new standard will enable a more efficient and sophisticated use of spectrum that raises tantalizing possibilities for everything from broadcasting more channels, to providing special services for special donors, to creating a whole new revenue stream through spectrum leasing.

We’ll have an in-depth session on this standard and its potential for public broadcasting later this afternoon with four of worlds’ best experts on the subject.

One specific initiative we will ask you to approve in our business meeting tomorrow is a commitment by every station of 1 Megabit per second of your spectrum stream to the new FirstNet public safety network.

This commitment represents about one-twentieth of your spectrum as currently arrayed, and it will be less than that when the new broadcast standard is adopted, perhaps later this year.

If we can make this system-wide commitment, we may well be able to use our datacasting capability to generate tens of millions of dollars of new revenue every year for America’s public television stations.

We have had serious discussions with potential prime contractors for FirstNet already, and they’ve made it clear that our national infrastructure, our one-to-many native architecture, our encryption-ready equipment, and our long-standing record of reliability make us a very attractive candidate for a far-ranging public safety partnership.

APTS has developed considerable expertise in public safety and emergency communications over the past few years, and we look forward to working with you to enhance our work in everything from Amber Alerts to earthquake warnings.

I am honored to announce today that, in recognition of the strategic importance of this growing capability -- and our proven record of good counsel to our stations on spectrum-related matters over the years -- the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has awarded our Association a major grant to accelerate station involvement in emergency communications throughout America.

Priceless Lonna will be in charge of this work, and if you want to be involved -- as you should -- call Lonna.

And as these new opportunities present themselves, and we are steadily realizing our ambition to make all of public television more efficiently and effective, spending less on infrastructure and more on programs and services, and taking full advantage of new technology to do more, and do it better.

We should not fear this coming transformation of our industry but welcome it.

And I would encourage all of our general managers to consider how your board members can bring their “day-job” expertise to the new challenges you face:  new business models, new technology, new opportunities for service, and new strategic relationships.

Here in Washington, where we can use all the help we can get, our strategic relationships with PBS and CPB have been particularly helpful in the past eventful year.

In the battles we fought in 2015, it did not hurt that PBS was one of the most-watched networks, with one of the most-beloved programs, the most-trusted news and public affairs, and several of the most well-regarded kids shows on the planet.

There are political benefits to such popularity, even as we make clear that Congress isn’t paying for “Downton Abbey”.

We owe a great debt of gratitude to Paula Kerger and her colleagues at PBS for sprinkling so much magic dust over our mission of public service, and Paula will have a big announcement to make at the PBS dinner here tomorrow night.

Pat Harrison and her colleagues at CPB – including the board members who grace our Summit today – have proven themselves astute and careful stewards of the federal funds they receive for public broadcasting.

And the trust they have earned in Congress, at the White House and throughout Washington to invest in the right things the right way – everything from interconnection to education to enlightening entertainment – is one of the most powerful assets we have in public media.

Pat has organized another inspiring program for our Summit Monday luncheon, and you won’t want to miss it.

Meanwhile, back at APTS Global Headquarters, my 12 intrepid teammates continue to work their miracles every day, assuming, like the air force, that “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible takes a little longer.”

We’ve stood up a self-sustaining Grant Center for Public Media in one year.

We’ve launched a What Works toolbox to share best practice in public service across the system.

We’ve created a State Funding Resource to help secure and grow those $200 million in state funds for public broadcasting.

We’ve upgraded our IT systems and made our website more functional and accessible to serve you better.

We’ve improved our human resources operations.

Our finances are stronger than ever.

And as this Public Media Summit proves every year, my colleagues are some of the most resourceful, creative and inexhaustible people I’ve ever worked with.

Please join me in thanking Emil Mara, Stacey Karp, Tela Hansom-Pitt, Ken Blunt, Joyce Burgess Schwarz, Tammye Heatley, Meegan White and Anthony Collebrusco for the really extraordinary work they do on your behalf.

All of this work flows from the new strategic plan our board approved in November 2014.

The plan’s focus on public funding, public policy and public service -- helping you do well by doing good -- captures the essence of our work.

But the board also found that our name didn’t quite capture the spirit of our mission.

Associations are a dime a dozen here in Washington, and they’re automatically lumped together as special-interest lobbying organizations.

Such groups are barred from the Obama White House, and they have a challenging reputation everywhere.

APTS is something different. We’re a nonprofit educational membership organization – a 501(c)(3) public charity in the eyes of the IRS – charged with planning, communication, education, the provision of member services, and related activities on behalf of public television.

We went to the trouble of creating a separate subsidiary – APTS Action, Inc. – as a 501(c)(4) to house our lobbying and advocacy work, and it’s been that way for years.

But in practice all of APTS has come to be regarded as a lobbying shop, and this shorthand reputation has left us in company with all the special interest pleaders in Washington and made it difficult for some state, university and school board licensees to justify membership in our organization.

Most importantly, our current name misses entirely our commitment to public service, through our work in education, public safety and civic leadership.

We were originally called the “Association of America’s Public Television Stations,” and I believe we abbreviated it the wrong way.

The APTS board agreed, and we now propose that this association be known as “America’s Public Television Stations.”

There’s a patriotic connotation to that name that is quite intentional, and we plan to reinforce that impression with a new logo if the new name is approved.

You will be asked to vote on this name change in our business meeting tomorrow morning, and I hope you will agree that this restoration of our original name best serves the interests of our association and our system.

We are here to serve our country, and our country has never needed us more.

In a nation struggling to save its children, grow its economy, and preserve the American dream, we educate millions of our fellow citizens.

In an era of grave danger, we keep America safe.

In a deeply riven and coarsened society, we are the last refuge of civil discourse.

And in a darkening world, we are the light of reason, and intelligence, and discovery, and civilization itself.

This is the work and the wonder of America’s Public Television Stations.

And at this turning point in our history, it is a calling -- and a name – we should embrace with renewed purpose, bright promise, and great pride.