Cliff effect leaves homes in Hawaii with no DTV signal

Digital television’s “dirty little secret” is out in Hawaii. The cliff effect — the fact DTV either works well or doesn’t work at all — is affecting about 1000 homes across the eight volcanic islands of Hawaii.

After the Jan. 15 digital transition in Hawaii, it was determined by TV Newsday that many viewers have lost free TV completely. “With digital, there’s a cliff,” Mike Rosenberg, general manager of KITV, an ABC affiliate, told TV Newsday. “These people are doing everything right and they’ve got no signal. Anybody who’s had something for 50 years and loses it is upset.”

Of Hawaii’s 430,000 TV households, an estimated 20,000 received only over-the-air analog signals. Since Jan. 15, according to local broadcasters, some 2000 people have called in to the locally run call center with questions or complaints about the digital service.

The main transmitters for Hawaii’s TV stations in Honolulu are on the island of Oahu. There are secondary transmitters on the islands of Maui, Hawaii and Kauai. Signals in Maui, TV Newsday said, are causing most of the trouble.

There, the broadcasters moved from multiple towers at the 11,000ft summit of the Haleakala volcano to a common tower at elevation of just 4500ft. This has caused lost signals.

“There are markets around the country that involve tower moves, and that new tower may serve people not served before, but may also lose other people,” noted Chris Leonard, president of the Hawaii Association of Broadcasters. “A certain part of the population will be potentially disenfranchised. That’s the tough reality.”