USDA awards $1.3 million for SDPB digital transition

USDA awards $1.3 million for SDPB digital transition South Dakota Public Broadcasting has been awarded $1,293,354 from the United States Department of Agriculture to improve digital broadcast equipment in central and east central South Dakota.

Three SDPB grants, at $431,118 each, were among 18 nationwide announced by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman this week and awarded through USDA's Rural Utilities Service Public Television Station Digital Transition Grant Program. The grants were awarded to the South Dakota Educational Telecommunications Board, which oversees the statewide network and holds SDPB's broadcast licenses.

The grants will allow the network to upgrade the digital television broadcast equipment at three SDPB transmitters: KQSD-DT, Lowry, covering

the north central area of South Dakota; KTSD-DT, Pierre, covering the south central part of South Dakota; and KESD-DT, Brookings, covering the east central area of the state.

Earlier this year, USDA announced $782,236 in awards for two other SDPB transmitters: KZSD-DT at Martin in southwestern South Dakota, and KPSD-DT at Eagle Butte, covering northwestern South Dakota.

The upgrades will allow SDPB Television to reach a wider area in these five mostly rural South Dakota coverage areas once the network switches to digital television (DTV) broadcasting.

"This is good news for South Dakota," said Otto Doll, commissioner of the South Dakota Bureau of Information and Telecommunications (BIT). "USDA's role is vital in ensuring that the state's rural population has access to the new digital technology." SDPB is a division of BIT.

The grants were based on the rural nature of the coverage areas, income levels and critical need.

At present, two of the network's nine digital transmitters are in operation: Rapid City and Sioux Falls. KBHE-DT Channel 26 in Rapid City and KCSD-DT Channel 24 in Sioux Falls are receiving the PBS HD Channel, for now, allowing viewers with DTV capable sets or receiver boxes to see a sample of DTV picture and sound quality.

Over the course of 2004, SDPB plans to initiate digital transmission at the five transmitters affected by the USDA grants plus KDSD-DT in Aberdeen and KUSD-DT in Vermillion. Eventually, the digital transmitters will offer the regular SDPB Television schedule.

The transition to digital is required by the Federal Communications Commission for public and commercial television stations nationwide. The FCC has set Dec. 31, 2006 as the cutoff date for analog transmission (the present mode for most viewers).

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