Digital TV Shift Affects Minorities Most

John Dunbar, AP, February 15, 2008

Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as whites to be left without television service following the nationwide transition to digital broadcasting next year, according to a new survey.

Beginning in February 2009, full-power broadcast stations will transmit digital-only signals, meaning people who get their television programming over an antenna and do not have a digital set won’t get a picture without a special converter box.

The Nielsen Co. survey released Friday estimates that more than 13 million households in the U.S. receive television programming over the air on non-digital sets, meaning they will need converter boxes. Another 6 million households contain at least one television that fits that description.

Nielsen researchers found that 10.1 percent of all households would have no access to television signals if the transition occurred today. Broken down by race, 8.8 percent of whites would be unready; 11.7 percent of Asians; 12.4 percent of blacks; and 17.3 percent of Hispanics.

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The Nielsen survey was done as part of its overall television rankings forecast. The data was gathered by Nielsen staff who visited a national sample of roughly 15,000 homes. The survey took about 18 months to complete, according to the company.

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Rossi said the results also track closely with cable television penetration rates. People who get cable or satellite service won’t be affected by the transition.

The government is accepting requests for coupons to subsidize the cost of converter boxes for those who need them. Each household is eligible for two coupons worth $40 apiece, regardless of whether they have pay-television service or not. To request a coupon, consumers can apply online at http://www.dtv2009.gov or call the 24-hour hotline, 1-888-DTV-2009 (1-888-388-2009).

The coupons expire three months from issue. Boxes are expected to be available in the next week at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Radio Shack and other retailers. They are expected to range in price from $40 to $70.

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