Patrick Butler's Presidential Address at the 2019 Public Media Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery on Monday, February 25, 2019. Watch a recording of this speech.

One of the great joys of hosting this Public Media Summit every year is the opportunity it brings to celebrate something special.

This year, we have a great many things to celebrate, and there’s no better place to start than with the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street.
Sesame gave public television our first claim on the affection and appreciation of the American people.

And we’re grateful to Jeff Dunn and his Sesame Workshop colleagues for making our Summit an early stop on their year-long celebration tour.
All of us are indebted to the Sesame Street family for helping millions of kids get ready to learn – and helping public television establish itself as the best friend a pre-schooler ever had.  

On behalf of everyone in the system, thank you.

At last year’s Summit, we were privileged to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the national premiere of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

That commemoration included an Oscar-nominated documentary, and continues this fall with a feature film starring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers.
The impact that such iconic programs as Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood have on children’s lives – and on the life of our country – is difficult to overstate.
This rich tradition continues today with exceptional children’s programs like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, Odd Squad, Wild Kratts, Sid the Science Kid, Peg + Cat, Dinosaur Train, and so many more on the 24/7 PBS KIDS channel.

(I chose those because they’re my grandsons’ favorites.)
If public television did nothing more than broadcast this kind of programming to the children of America, we would have earned an honored place in the hearts of our countrymen.

But these broadcasts are only the beginning of what we celebrate this week.

We will celebrate the 10th anniversary of NHK World-Japan, including a preview of a remarkable documentary on the Emperor of Japan, who later this year will be the first to step down from the Chrysanthemum Throne.

We will celebrate the growing bipartisan support we enjoy in Washington, as we present our Champion of Public Broadcasting award to: Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine; and to the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland.

Most of all, this Summit is a celebration of localism – the work that local public television stations do every day to serve their communities, teach our children, keep us safe from harm, and give us the tools we need to be responsible citizens of the world’s most important democracy.

These missions have never been more important than now – and public television has never been better prepared to perform them.

For every beloved children’s program on PBS, there are dozens of stations and hundreds of staff members and volunteers working to enhance the learning impact of those programs – especially for the children who need it most.

The Mississippi Public Broadcasting story that so memorably opened this Summit is only one of countless examples of local stations marshaling parents, teachers, caregivers – everyone with a stake in a child’s success – to make sure that child has a chance to succeed in school and in life.

It is this personal care and concern, combined with the highest-quality educational resources made possible through Ready To Learn, that closes the achievement gap between children in low-income families and their more affluent peers.

And if we weren’t here, doing precisely this work, nobody would be doing it at all.

Fifty-two percent of America’s pre-school children have no access to any preschool education — except through us.

And as then-Governor Mike Pence told us at another special Summit five years ago, there just isn’t any better or more cost-effective way to get America’s children ready to learn than through public television.

Further along our continuum of lifelong learning:

— Local stations train teachers to use PBS LearningMedia to enrich the education of 40 million K-12 students with thousands of curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning objects adapted from the best of public television programming and material from the Library of Congress, the National Archives, NASA and other authoritative sources.

— Local public television stations, in partnership with Kentucky Educational Television, help hundreds of thousands of second-chance learners earn their high school equivalency diplomas.

— Local public television stations like WHRO-TV in Roanoke, Virginia, bring high-quality instruction in specialized subjects to students in the most remote areas of our country.

— Local public television stations are giving life to CPB’s American Graduate program, and driving the high school dropout rate to its lowest level in history.

– Local public television stations like Vegas PBS are leading the way in workforce development,
offering dozens of courses to thousands of adults and placing more than 90 percent of them in well-paying jobs.

— And local public television stations like WGBH, WNET and WETA produce the programs that teach Americans of all ages about their country, their history, their culture, their world, their universe.

And even this extensive recitation barely begins to describe the service our stations provide to every hometown in America.

Across the American heartland, local public television stations:

Cover agriculture in Iowa;

Help stop school shootings in Indiana;

Fight the opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania;

Train veterans in Connecticut;

Preserve Native American culture in Oklahoma;

And warn of earthquakes in California.

In Allentown, Pennsylvania, PBS39 produces a nightly newscast for the Lehigh Valley that goes beyond crime, weather and sports to give the Valley’s citizens a deeper understanding of their community.

In Alabama, APT’s IQ Learning Network produces dozens of live and interactive learning adventures built to the State’s educational standards in science, history, English and math.

South Carolina ETV and Public Radio have created a partnership to provide enhanced hurricane and other weather emergency content to the people of the Palmetto State.

Idaho Public Television’s Idaho In Session is the “C-SPAN” of the State, covering House and Senate sessions, committee meetings, Governors’ addresses, court hearings, and more.

Detroit Public Television convenes a Great Lakes conference every year, bringing together leaders from both the public and private sectors to explore all the economic, environmental, political, social and other issues important to the people of the Great Lakes region.

And Tennessee’s six public television stations have just entered a partnership with the State government to establish a statewide emergency communications network that can help save time, property — and lives — when the State faces a crisis like the Gatlinburg wildfires of 2017.

This panoply of local programs and public services constitutes a profoundly important contribution to American society.

These are the stories of service and success that we will celebrate at our Summit this year.  

They are a tribute to the people who have led local public television for decades and built the reputation for community service on which this system stands.  

As these giants begin to take their leave into well-earned retirement, a new generation of leaders is emerging.

And with them must come a new spirit of entrepreneurship that welcomes constant innovation, and a comprehensive commitment to diversity that mirrors the nation we serve.

We know that, for all we have accomplished, the years just ahead will bring with them some of the most serious challenges – and brightest opportunities – our system has ever faced.

New giants are roaming the media landscape, and we must have a strategy to compete with them.

A new broadcast standard will revolutionize television and our use of broadcast spectrum.

And the politics of public broadcasting will continue to complicate our best-laid plans.

The next 10 years may be our most transformative period since the founding of public television itself.

The board of trustees of America’s Public Television Stations understands our situation well.

They recognize that our future success depends importantly on the resources we can deploy to adapt to change and enhance our service to the American people.

At its retreat this past November, the board set some ambitious goals for generating the revenue we’ll need to deal effectively and successfully with the challenges and opportunities of the decade ahead.  

We want to secure in the next 10 years:

- $100 million in additional federal funding;

- $100 million in additional State funding;

- and a $100 million spectrum-based business for our stations that takes full advantage of the Next Gen broadcast standard approved late in 2017 by the Federal Communications Commission.

These are tall orders, and reaching these goals will require more capacity than we have at hand here at APTS Global Headquarters.  

Your board has approved a modest increase in membership dues to give us the ability to:

- expand our constituency on Capitol Hill, winning new champions in the Education, Homeland Security, Veterans and other committees that share our missions;

- recruit additional State governments to support our work;

- and marshal the business, legal and technological expertise we need to launch an exciting new spectrum enterprise.

An additional $300,000 in membership revenue to generate an additional $300 million in system revenue is a return-on-investment formula that any business would envy.  

And that is the calculus our board has boldly approved.

Public television in the last several years has demonstrated a remarkable penchant for doing extraordinary things – preserving our funding, dealing with spectrum auctions, creating a new annual account for our continuing interconnection and infrastructure needs – and I am confident that we can achieve these new objectives as well.

In the middle of this Summit a year ago, I received a call from the chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee asking for our help in securing an extra billion dollars – very late in the appropriations process – to finance the channel repacking of broadcasters affected by the spectrum auction.

We helped. We got the billion dollars, and about $350 million of it is flowing to public television and radio stations across America today.

This is in addition to the $20 million for interconnection and infrastructure, the $27.7 million for Ready To Learn, and the $445 million for CPB that we secured with your help last fall.

At the State government level, we have restored all of the $100 million we lost in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, and 36 States invested $214 million in our work in 2018.

We have already begun discussions with officials of several additional States, and I hope to report significant progress on this front at next year’s Summit.

The spectrum business will take a little longer.  

Adopting the new ATSC 3 broadcast standard, on a voluntary, market-by-market basis, will take years.  

And that process must be substantially completed to free up the spectrum we need to build the business we want.

But we can begin now – indeed, we have already begun – to build the relationships with potential partners that will ultimately result in an enterprise that takes full advantage of the spectrum resources at our command, advances our public service missions, and creates a steady revenue stream for our stations that smooths out the ups and downs that have vexed this system from its earliest days.

Three opportunities we’re exploring now:

— Netflix and other streaming video services are constantly searching for cheaper ways to get their signals into viewers’ households.

With our one-to-many data transmission capabilities, we could be the ideal “last-mile” partner.

— As connected cars and even autonomous cars become common, automotive companies will need reliable spectrum

to send software updates, navigation information and streaming video to these cars of the near future.

We will have the spectrum to make that possible.

— And amid the myriad of possibilities for connecting the Internet of Things, one that may be particularly attractive to us because of its public service dimension is the “smart city,”

whose smart parking meters, smart thermostats, congestion sensors, structural sensors and other technologies

will require massive data streaming and continuous software updates that we can send through our spectrum.

Is all this a $100 million business?  We don’t know. But we’re going to find out.

And we’re going to make sure that every APTS member station can share fully in this business, whatever its size.

Our most immediate challenge — our work this week — is to make the case on Capitol Hill for a substantial increase in our federal funding.

We have been encouraged by the new leaders of the House Committee on Appropriations — committee chair Nita Lowey of New York and our subcommittee chair Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut — to request $495 million for CPB in the next appropriations cycle: a $50 million increase over our current appropriation.

We have been advised both by senior Democrats and Republicans that this is a reasonable request, given the loss of $50 million in purchasing power we have sustained during ten years of level funding.

But that’s not our case.

Congresswoman DeLauro has suggested that we make a very specific, very local appeal for what this additional investment would mean to America’s communities.

How many more students could we teach?

How much more could we do to inform our fellow citizens about their country, in all its hometown diversity?  

How many more lives could we save?

We are about to discover just how powerful a force localism is in the councils of our national government.

And our success depends on your willingness — as public television professionals and private citizens alike — to tell your very special local story and make a very specific ask for a $50 million increase in funding for public broadcasting.

The elections of 2018 have brought to power people in the House of Representatives who have been our most enthusiastic champions for decades.

But it’s important for us to remember that it was a Republican House and a Republican Senate which provided our funding during the past four years.

We have made friends and won supporters across the political spectrum with just the case we’re asking you to make this week:

—More than 70 percent of CPB funds go directly to local public broadcasting stations.

—We use these funds for education, public safety and civic leadership, and Americans of every political persuasion think it’s the best money government spends, after national defense.

—The new funding level we seek would represent an investment of $1.50 per American, while Canada invests $22, Great Britain $86, and Germany $108 per citizen in public broadcasting.

Even with such compelling facts on our side, this quest for additional funding will not be easy.

Everyone else who receives federal support will be looking for an increase this year, as well.

Congress is operating under a budget agreement that expires this year, and without a new agreement there will be a new round of automatic cuts.

There will be a vigorous battle this summer over raising the limit on the national debt, which now stands at $22 trillion.

Domestic discretionary spending has not fared as well as defense spending in recent appropriations cycles -- and may not in this one.

And the White House will almost certainly recommend the elimination of our funding in its budget proposal to Congress next month.

So we are called again to fight the good fight, not only for ourselves but for all the people we serve in our missions of education, public safety and civic leadership.  

For you, the work of teaching children and their parents, telling the stories of heartland America, and keeping your neighbors safe is just another day at the office.  

But the American people love, trust, admire and appreciate the work you do, and the store of good will that you’ve built in your communities and your country over the last half-century has steadily strengthened our modest claim on the federal treasury.

As we prepare to go to Capitol Hill to ask for our first increase in funding in 10 years, we can take inspiration once again from our old friend Mister Rogers, who testified before Congress 50 years ago this May and saved our federal funding in a historic, six-minute exchange with Senator John Pastore of Rhode Island.

After being interrupted by the Senator several times while trying to begin a 10-page statement he had carefully prepared, Mister Rogers laid his papers down, looked straight at Senator Pastore, and spoke from his heart about the influence public television could have on the youngest among us – making them feel safe and secure, worthy and understood, special and loved.

When he finished, the flinty Senator Pastore replied with emotion his colleagues had never seen:

“I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy,” he said, “and this is the first time I’m getting goose bumps.... I think it’s wonderful. Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.”

Mister Rogers replied, “I’m grateful for your goose bumps. And I acknowledge them as interest in our kind of communication.”

What you do is wonderful, too.

Make your case with confidence.  

Raise some goose bumps with your stories of service.

Secure this increased funding.

And make a little history of your own that we can celebrate at this Summit next year.

Thank you for everything you do. And let’s go take that Hill.

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