South Carolina’s public broadcasting network is set to get at least $35 million to spend on its building needs.
The money comes from S.C. ETV’s sale of airwave space associated with its station in the Greenville market to the Federal Communication Commission. The FCC then sold space freed up by networks nationwide — including ETV’s Greenville capacity, which fetched $43.2 million — to wireless and telecommunication companies, hungry for capacity.
ETV will use money from that sale to pay for facilities projects over the next several years, including building improvements and transmission tower upgrades.
“This will help us really infuse important investment into this infrastructure,” said Linda O’Bryon, president and chief executive of Columbia-based ETV.
Legislative budget negotiators are weighing whether to let ETV spend all of the $43.2 million or only $35 million with the difference going to S.C. schools and to pay for school buses.
The money is on top of the of the state agency’s $19.2 million-a-year budget, from the state and federal governments, and other sources, including private donations.
‘Needs for many years’
ETV manages 11 TV stations, eight radio stations and an extensive microwave system to connect those stations and services, keeping ETV and S.C. Public Radio on the air.
ETV also houses transmitters for a number of federal agencies — including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather-tracking system, Homeland Security Department and FBI — as well as several state agencies, including a backup system for the State Law Enforcement Division.
ETV has hundreds of microwave and broadcast towers statewide, some decades old and in need of repair or replacement, O’Bryon said.
Other upgrades would come to equipment and facilities at the agency, including network security, hardware, wired and wireless infrastructure, streaming upgrades, cameras and software.
“These needs for many years just weren’t addressed during the recession and when there were cutbacks,” O’Bryon said, adding, in recent years, the Legislature has approved money for some improvement projects.
Budget negotiations ongoing
Twenty years ago, South Carolina was known for having one of the best educational TV networks in the country, said state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw.
But, over the last decade, ETV has been barely able, financially, to deliver quality programming, Sheheen added. “ETV has been starved from technology improvements for a good 10 years and technology has rapidly changed.”
The new money will handle ETV’s building improvement needs for the next 10 years, he said.
When budget negotiators will decide how much money ETV can spend — $35 million or $43.2 million — needs remains to be seen.
House and Senate budget negotiators, who are trying to reach a compromise on differing spending proposals passed by the Legislature’s two houses, have met formally only twice since May 16. Key differences in the two proposals include how to spend money to shore up the state’s ailing pension system and whether to spend more on S.C. colleges.
The state Senate passed a continuing budget resolution earlier this week that would keep state government operating at current spending levels if a deal is not reached by July 1, when the state’s new fiscal year starts. However, lawmakers still have roughly five weeks to reach a deal before that date.
When a budget compromise is reached, the full S.C. House and Senate will return to Columbia to vote on it. The S.C. House tentatively plans to return June 6.
Four S.C. TV stations sold broadcast spectrum to the FCC for a total of almost $140 million; the agency then resold the capacity to telecommunications firms. A look at who sold what in S.C. and for how much:
$45.6 million — Nexstar Broadcasting in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, N.C., area
$44.3 million — Carolina Christian Broadcasting in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, N.C., area
$43.2 million — S.C. ETV in the Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville, N.C., area
$5 million — Beach TV of South Carolina in the Myrtle Beach-Florence area
SOURCE: Federal Communications Commission