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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., said additional funding for rural public television stations would help them improve rural education and pay for regulations mandated by the federal government.

Enzi requested a $20 million increase in the fiscal year 2003 Agriculture Appropriations bill for the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) Grant and Loan program. Enzi made the request in a July 22 letter to Senators Herb Kohl, D-Wis., and Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the respective chairman and ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Enzi said the funding would assist rural public television stations in the digital conversion of their transmitters. The conversion was mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 1998 and requires all public television stations to operate digital transmitters by May 2003, or risk being forced off the air.

"The digital conversion is critical to the continued and enhanced telecommunications and educational services in rural America," wrote Enzi. "However, I am concerned that small stations serving rural areas may not be able to meet the FCC's deadline due to lack of funding."

The RUS-DLT program is designed to provide financing for telecommunications providers to meet the educational and health care needs specifically in rural America.

The Wyoming State Legislature appropriated about $1.8 million in fiscal year 2002 for Wyoming Public Television's digital transition, but Enzi said it may take another estimated $6-10 million to finish the system for Wyoming's digital state network.

"Many states, including Wyoming, are taking steps to financially assist public television stations but state governments cannot do it alone. This grant program could go a long way to help rural public television stations like Wyoming Public Television in their digital conversion," wrote Enzi.

Wyoming Public television originates from Central Wyoming College in Riverton and can be found on Channel 4 KCWC.