Maine Republican Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have introduced a bill to help broadcasters pay for translators to fill in digital signal gaps caused by the "cliff effect."
The aptly-named DTV Cliff Effect Assistance Act would allocate $125 million to help pay for digital repeaters or translator towers to fill in areas where a weak signal means no signal at all (the cliff effect).
The money would be available through 2012 from a newly created Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund.
The bill would also require that those translators serve double duty to help out with the rollout of broadband service, saying that the equipment "shall reasonably facilitate the collocation of any wireless communications or broadband equipment," with the stipulation that the requirement would not apply if there is "clear evidence" that co-location would create interference issues.
"I have talked to many people in Maine who have purchased a converter box yet they still cannot receive a digital signal or they are experiencing a drastic decrease in service. This is simply unacceptable," said Collins in announcing the bill. "Unlike analog signals, digital signals are more susceptible to interference from mountains, hills, and tall buildings. Our legislation would provide funding to help increase signal strength by purchasing digital translators. Without action, too many Americans will be left with dark televisions once we fully transition to digital television broadcasting."
The FCC has given broadcasters temporary authority to use translators to fill in gaps within their markets, but it has yet to finalize a proposal that would allow stations to use translators to reach viewers outside their markets who have historically received the signals.
In either case, without government help it will be an added expense for broadcasters struggling, with the rest of the country, through tough economic times.