Ops Fear DTV 'Cliff'

Off-air analog TV signals grow weak before becoming unviewable. But in the digital TV world, there's something called the "cliff effect:" You either get an off-air DTV signal or you get a blank screen.

Small cable operators fear the cliff effect could be a problem for them in the years ahead.

Those operators worry that systems on the outskirts of TV markets, especially in those rural areas, won't be close enough to DTV towers and won't be able to retransmit signals due to the cliff effect.

Because of small-market economics, small operators doubt that TV stations will buy repeaters to reach distant headends with good-quality signals.

These issues were raised in an April 30 meeting between members of the American Cable Association and FCC member Kevin Martin and his mass media adviser Catherine Crutcher Bohigian.

"The concern of ACA members is that at the completion of the [transition], an entire class of small cable systems and consumers on the fringes of broadcast markets will lose all access to over-the-air broadcast signals, either by cable systems or over-the-air antennas," the ACA said in May 3 letter filed at the FCC.

Although the ACA asked the FCC to study the matter, it did not use the letter to suggest steps the agency could take to address the cliff effect.