Bethel, Alaska, Jan 28, 2014 -- USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Patrice Kunesh today announced investments in rural telecommunications infrastructure and equipment to expand access to education and economic development for rural residents. Kunesh made the announcement on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s behalf during a visit to Alaska.
“These investments will help public television stations serving substantially rural communities make the transition to digital broadcasts,” Kunesh said. “This newer, digital technology will give rural Alaskans more access to advanced teaching resources. It also will help them in their career goals as well as help expand their local economies.”
USDA Rural Development is awarding grants through the Public Television Digital Transition Grant program. Kunesh announced six grants totaling more than $2.5 million.
In Alaska, USDA has selected Bethel Broadcasting, Inc. for a $718,656 grant to help station KYUK buy digital production equipment. The station will convert to digital a low-power transmitter for public channels that are part of the Alaska Rural Communications Service.
Digital transmission is important to remote towns like Bethel, which can only be reached by air. Bethel has more than 60 percent Yup'ik Eskimo residents and serves as an administrative and transportation hub for nearly 60 surrounding Native Alaskan villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.
While the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) required all television broadcasters to have converted their transmitters to broadcast digital signals by June 12, 2009, many rural stations have yet to complete a full digital transition of their stations across all equipment, such as studio production and master control equipment. Many stations rely on translators (repeaters to expand the broadcast range) to reach the most remote communities, and the 2009 FCC deadline did not apply to these.
Public Television Digital Transition grants may be used to acquire and install facilities and software necessary for the transition. The grants also may be used for associated engineering and environmental studies. For more information on these grants, visit: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/utp_dtv.html.
The other grant recipients announced today are:
• Idaho Public Television, $59,500 – To upgrade digital translators for over-the-air programming for communities in the Camas Prairie region of central Idaho. Improved signal strength will be provided to Grangeville, Winchester, Ferdinand, Craigmont, Kamiah and Kooskia.
• Kentucky Authority for Educational Television, $357,700 – To replace 20 analog microwave radios with digital radios for stations WKSO (Somerset), WKMR (Morehead), WKHA (Hazard) and WKPI (Pikesville). Upgrading this equipment will enable residents in these rural, low-income areas to get access to KET’s educational services.
• Eastern New Mexico University, $112,822 – To buy two translators serving the Mescalero Apache Tribe Reservation. The translators will allow tribal members to pick up the KENW-TV public television signal in their homes with indoor antennas. The upgrades also will provide an Emergency Alert System to the Reservation.
• Ana G. Mendez University System, Inc., $566,505 – To buy digital equipment for educational, social and cultural programming to remote locations.
• West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority, $750,000 – To convert the television production studio in Charleston from analog to high-definition digital. This project will benefit viewers in six states.
Funding for each grant is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant agreement.
While in Alaska, Kunesh also announced that two recipients in Alaska have been selected for grants to upgrade or build distance learning networks. These networks will significantly expand access to health care and education in rural areas. The distance learning recipients are:
• Chugachmiut Tribal Consortium: $180,656 grant – To re‐establish a telemedicine network between Native villages in the Chugach region and offices in Seward and Anchorage. Clinics in the villages of Tatitlek, Chenega, Port Graham and Nanwalek will be linked with Anchorage and the North Star Clinic.
• Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium: $114,842 grant – To buy video teleconferencing equipment systems for virtual sessions between patients and health care providers. It is projected that nearly 3,200 people will benefit in the first year alone. The Consortium includes nine organizations that deliver innovative telehealth solutions throughout the Alaska Federal Health Care system.
“Ensuring that Rural Alaskans have access to modern communications networks is as vital to their economic fortunes as electricity was in the 1930s and 1940s,” USDA Alaska Rural Development State Director Jim Nordlund said.
For more information on Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants, visit: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/utp_dlt.html.
President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values.
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