I found George Will's Aug. 1 op-ed column on public television disappointing. As always, conservatives' objections to PBS stem from the most destructive pretension of modern capitalism -- namely, that that which is not profitable in the marketplace is not worthwhile. Recognizing the weakness of this argument, Will responds that cable has more than filled the need for such programming.

I am one of many fans of PBS and National Public Radio (NPR), however, who do not have cable simply because they cannot afford it. In addition to extraordinary programming, PBS and NPR are refreshing for me, if for no other reason than to escape the incessant drone of advertising that seems to accompany our lives more and more every day.

As the networks' dismal fall lineup gets ready to roll, I find comfort in knowing that at least a few corners of modern life, such as PBS, are not completely beholden to the dollar. This alone is reason for preserving it.

-- Derek Westfall

George Will claims that look-alike cable channels make public television unnecessary. The facts tell another story. It's PBS -- not CNN, Discovery or Nickelodeon -- that consistently leads television's most prestigious competitions. Last month, PBS received more news-and-documentary Emmy nominations than any other broadcast or cable network. And Will's let-them-eat-cable argument ignores the 24 million American families who don't subscribe to cable or a direct-broadcast satellite service, each of which costs hundreds of dollars a year.

Will is right about one thing. Our commercial counterparts are keenly interested in broadcasting our programs. The rub is that they have no inclination to create them on their own. After 30 years, where is commercial television's "Sesame Street"? It doesn't exist.

PBS and its member stations are the number-one television resource in the country for classroom programming, according to surveys by Cable in the Classroom. Our Adult Learning Service is the leading source of college telecourses in the nation, used by more than 450,000 students last year.

Public broadcasting's mission of education, culture and citizenship is as important today as it was three decades ago -- and as big a bargain. In a 1997 Roper poll, the American people ranked public radio and public television as the second- and third-best values for their federal tax dollars; only national defense ranked higher.

Who needs public broadcasting? Not Will, perhaps. But to judge from their viewing and listening choices, millions of Americans want and need it. We continue to serve them in ways unduplicated by commercial broadcasting and cable. And we do it all for less than the cost of one NFL football contract on one commercial channel.

-- Ervin S. Duggan

The writer is president and

chief executive officer of the Public

Broadcasting Service.