Digital Dilemmas

No more TV service for some Molokai viewers.

By Catherine Cluett

The days of analog television have been over since January 15, but something else changed that day, too: the location of the broadcast tower for Maui from atop Haleakala. to Ulupalakua Ranch, a move that’s left some Molokai residents without a TV signal.

Mike Rosenberg, general manager of KITV on Oahu, says the switch in tower location was mandated because TV transmissions were interfering with Department of Defense and University of Hawaii operations, both of which have facilities atop Haleakala.

Tom Derenge, of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says the mountains in western Maui are blocking the TV signal to some areas. Rosenberg adds that an elevation drop of 6000 feet from Haleakala to the Ulupalakua site may also be to blame for weaker signal.

Rosenberg says the tower relocation was an eight year process that included public hearings to find a new location. He says Ulupalakua was the last choice of sites, but environmental and cultural concerns eliminated sites that would have resulted in a better signal.

Relocation of the antennas occurred concurrently with the state’s conversion to digital TV, so Derenge says a lot of people are blaming the transition to digital for a failing signal when the problem actually lies in the new transmitter location. Rosenberg explains that while a poor analog signal yields a fuzzy image, a poor digital signal shows up as a black screen — it’s all or nothing.

Customers who watch free over-the-air TV with a rooftop antenna or “rabbit ears” have to install a digital converter box in order to receive digital transmissions. But many residents of Molokai’s East end are still having trouble receiving a signal, even with a converter box.

“We were all just told to go out and buy the box and everything would be fine,” explains Anne Bacon, a resident of Molokai’s East end.

Jonathan Socher, owner of Big Wind Kite Factory and resident of western Molokai, says he’s having similar difficulties. When he called to talk to a FCC representative, they just laughed when he said he’s from Molokai. The representative suggested they get cable or satellite service. “But that costs a lot of money, and I just don’t feel like doing that now,” says Socher.

Derenge says West Molokai gets its TV signal from Oahu, and the FCC isn’t aware of many residents in the area having difficulties. A few Oahu channels, however, are not currently operating at full capacity power, he explains, so service there may improve in the next couple months.

Derenge identifies portions of East Molokai as having the biggest difficulties receiving a signal, adding that such factors as quality of antenna and how high you are can also affect your signal.

The FCC advises customers experiencing difficulties to purchase cable or satellite TV service. Derenge says Oceanic Cable is offering a $10 per month deal with no initiation fee in a limited time offer.

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