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Background

This report is the third study of public broadcasting coverage conducted by the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP), which is administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

In 1982, NTIA issued the report A Plan for Public Telecommunications Facilities which included national coverage maps and population statistics based on the 1970 census.  The report found that while 75 percent of the United States population received public radio service, 51 radio markets remained without service.  The data in the report, however, assumed average terrain and did not consider terrain barriers to signal reception such as mountains or steep river valleys.  The maps reflected state-of-the-art computer technology at the time.
  
In 1987, Congressional interest over the extent of public broadcasting coverage resulted in a directive to the NTIA from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary, and Related Agencies.  In the Subcommittee’s report dated September 21, 1987, the Subcommittee directed

NTIA to conduct a study on the extent to which public radio signals and public television signals are available, and to provide respective percentages for households and territory.  Because the Committee believes it is important to provide these services to as many rural residents as possible, the study should include an analysis of how these areas might best be served.

NTIA completed the report Public Broadcasting Coverage in the United States in July 1989.  The 1989 study used a computer program developed by NTIA’s research arm, the Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS), to generate coverage maps which incorporated terrain data into the signal coverage calculations.  The resulting study combined terrain-based coverage maps for each state and data from the 1980 census to produce the most complete and accurate depiction of public broadcasting coverage in the United States to that time. 

  • In 1989, approximately 86 percent of the U.S. population received at least one public radio signal.

  • Statistics revealed a wide range of population coverage among the states.  Wyoming had the lowest percentage of coverage at 47 percent.  The District of Columbia had complete coverage, while 13 states had percentage levels at or above 90 percent.

  • Another 13 states had coverage below 80 percent.  Among them, a few common themes emerged.  The states in question tended to have small populations, vast land size, and rugged, mountainous terrain.

  • Finally, the report noted that of the 51 radio markets identified in the 1982 study as unserved, only 13 remained without public radio service.  These markets were:  Selma, AL; Idaho Falls-Pocatello, ID; Albany and Macon, GA; North Platte, NE; Ardmore-Ada, OK; Johnstown-Altoona, PA; Laredo, McAllen-Brownsville, Odessa-Midland, San Angelo, Tyler and Victoria, TX
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