Maine Senators Concerned about DTV Cliff

The two U.S. Senators from Maine, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins , have introduced the The DTV Cliff Effect Assistance Act of 2009. This bill aims to address some of the problems that rural consumers are encountering with poor reception of digital television broadcast signals.

As mentioned here on more than a few occasions, digital signals behave differently than analog. The image from an analog signal gets snowy and filled with static as the signal gets weaker, until you can’t see any of the image. Digital images look as if they were coming from a DVD until it crosses a threshhold, at which point you get a blank screen. This is known as “falling off the cliff” because of the abrupt change based on a small change in signal strength. Consumers who are used to getting weak images from analog broadcasts are likely to not receive any TV images at all after the conversion to all digital broadcasts on June 12.

The Senators from Maine figure that the solution is to fund additional translator and repeater stations for television stations so that they can extend their broadcast range for digital signals. The bill provides for $125 million in reimbursements for the construction of the additional towers. These cost about $80,000 to $100,000 apiece, so this means that the funding would cover at least 1,250 extra towers. That may sound like a lot, but there are 1,800 full power television broadcast stations in the country, and many of the rural ones are surrounded by areas that have no other source for over-the-air broadcasts. Conceivably, some of the stations in remote and mountainous markets might need several extra towers to effectively extend their reach to the areas that currently receive adequate coverage from analog signals.

In any case, these new towers won’t get built in a month, so even if this bill were to be passed today, it still would not provide uninterupted coverage for those who are affected by the loss of reception due to digital signals. These extra towers may be a good idea, but once again, it’s something that the FCC should have thought of years ago.