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Staying noncommercial

Public TV stations cannot use federal funds to support new digital services that run commercials, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting's board of directors agreed last week. Actually, that is already the law of the land, but, in response to lawmakers' concerns, the board put an exclamation point on it.

In October, the FCC ruled that public TV stations could fund new ancillary digital services, such as multicast channels or datacasting, by soliciting sponsorships or running ads. Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Billy Tauzin (R-La.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) expressed their concern to the FCC about "creeping commercialism" in public broadcasting. On Friday, responding to those concerns, the CPB board passed a resolution that restates as CPB policy what the law already says: Public TV stations cannot use public money to help fund services that have commercial backing. The CPB board also recognized that Congress and the FCC expect public broadcasting to remain mostly noncommercial and publicly funded.

The resolution did not appease all lawmakers. It "doesn't change the fact that they are commercializing what is supposed to be a noncommercial asset," said a Markey aide.