The Trump administration has released its proposed federal budget, and as promised, it contains significant cuts to a number of government departments and services including removing all federal funding for public broadcasting.
If the budget is accepted by Congress, the nearly $450 million spent annually on National Public Radio, the Public Broadcasting Network and a number of small regional public radio and TV networks would disappear.
Although NPR and PBS and other parts of the public-broadcasting ecosystem also get a significant amount of funding from charitable foundations and other private donors, they warn that cutting off the federal endowment would create havoc.
Patricia Harrison, CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which funnels federal money to NPR, PBS and other outlets, warned in a statement that the loss of funding would cause “the collapse of the public media system.” She added that “there is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s educational and informational programming and services.”
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PBS president Paula Kerger, meanwhile, said that the service and its more than 300 member stations planned to “continue to remind Congress of our strong support among Republican and Democratic voters, in rural and urban areas across every region of the country.”
Supporters of the government’s public broadcasting efforts also point out that if the Trump budget is aimed at reducing waste, the money that goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting accounts for about 0.01% of federal spending.
Conservative forces opposed to public funding for broadcasters argue that NPR and PBS are left-leaning, and that if they want to continue to exist they should find private sources of financing instead of relying on the government. Dan Gainor of the conservative Media Research Center, which is opposed to public funding of broadcasters and other news outlets, said on Twitter that “there simply is no legitimate reason for government to fund left-wing media.”
Supporters point out that in addition to news, PBS broadcasts a variety of family-oriented programming such as Sesame Street and Antiques Roadshow, while NPR is recognized for its arts and entertainment coverage.
If the government does succeed in cutting funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, however, it may not be high-profile national outlets like NPR and PBS that suffer the most. Both of those networks rely on government funding for a relatively small portion of their revenue—only 7% in the case of PBS and about 1% for NPR, according to financial reports from 2014.
The hardest hit by such a measure, some argue, would be regional public-broadcasting players that provide much-needed news and entertainment alternatives for smaller communities.
“The federal investment in public media is vital seed money — especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40 to 50 percent of their budget,” the CPB said in response to a recent bill that recommended a cut in funding. “The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect.”
The fact that the Trump budget intends to de-fund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is not a surprise. Earlier this year, insiders said the budget would likely include a number of proposals from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Republican Study Committee, both of which recommended de-funding public broadcasters.
At the time it made the proposal, the Heritage Foundation noted that when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was created in 1967, “households faced very limited broadcasting options. As technology has grown since the corporation’s inception, media sources for accessing the news and broadcasting have greatly increased.”
The Republican Study Committee, meanwhile—which is made up of 172 Republican members of the House of Representatives—argued that “a free society should not have government-supported media outlets, especially ones that so often convey political news and opinion. There is no shortage of media outlets and news services available to consumers.”