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Some Hawaii households are still without free TV

By Erika Engle

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:41 p.m. HST, Jul 09, 2010



Some Hawaii households are still without free, over-the-air television, a year and a half after the January 2009 analog-to-digital conversion.

The exact number of Hawaii homes that lost TV service or were left with only partial service following the transition is unknown. However, the Star-Advertiser continues to receive inquiries from viewers left without one or more channels.

The DTV conversion team at the Federal Communications Commission has been dissolved, and Lyle Ishida, the FCC's DTV point man for Hawaii, has been assigned to broadband matters, he said.

One area known to broadcasters and regulators to be over-the-air-TV-free is a pie-shaped area in the terrain-shielded shadow of the Ulupalakua, Maui, broadcast tower. The area, including Haiku, lost reception in a government-mandated move of broadcasters' long-standing towers from a superior location atop Haleakala.

Engineering studies conducted prior to the conversion revealed the problem areas including the Haiku vicinity, "but we were forced to move to the lower location," said Mike Rosenberg, president and general manager of KITV. He led the consortium of broadcasters with transmission facilities formerly mounted atop the Maui mountain.

Back on Oahu, pockets of Honolulu and Central Oahu, to name two areas, are missing out on at least some broadcast channels.

Kapahulu viewer Rendy Chow is unable to receive KGMB-TV. "Before, I could catch Channel 5, but now I can't catch Channel 9," she said.

Many Oahu homes were left without KHNL-TV and KFVE-TV (Channels 8 and 5) after the January transition because of the low elevation of the stations' transmitters.

"We moved KHNL's and KFVE's transmitters to a higher elevation up on Palehua Ridge and moved KGMB to Palehua Ridge" around the end of last year, said Keith Aotaki, director of engineering for the three stations known collectively as Hawaii Now.

On Oahu, reception of Hawaii Now's digital TV signals "depends on the person's proximity and sightline to the west range. You've gotta be able to see the Waianaes," he said.

Conversely, a viewer whose residence is oriented toward downtown should receive KITV and KHON clearly, as their transmitters are in town. That is, unless a building or errant tree is blocking the signal from getting to the antenna on the digital TV or for an analog TV, the converter box.

KGMB engineers "made house calls" to help residents rectify their lack-of-signal issues, said Rick Blangiardi, vice president and general manager. "And we made them from Kaimuki to Mililani."

Neither he nor his engineering staff has received a call in months, he said.

"Honest to God, I'll respond to anybody that's still having a signal problem," Blangiardi said. "We want people to be able to see us."

Subscription to pay-TV services such as Oceanic Time Warner Cable ($13.31), DISH Network ($24.99) or DirecTV ($29.99) would bring the broadcast channels and more into homes that lost service, but that is a budgetary decision Chow and others have not chosen to make.

Satellite TV installer Jason Gardner of The Satellite Guy has seen an increase in subscribers and service upgrades during the recession as people cut back on entertainment outside the home. Both satellite TV services have limited-time offers that include either 120 or 210 channels and "free HD for life," he said. The much cheaper bare-bones, basic package offered by Oceanic Time Warner Cable offers 21 channels and an on-screen program guide.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Advertiser. Reach her by e-mail at erika@staradvertiser.com.






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