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Hispanics found most likely to be left out in TV transition

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

Beginning Feb. 17, 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 prepared for release today estimates that more than 13 million households in the United States receive television programming over the air on nondigital sets, meaning they will need converter boxes.

An additional 6 million households contain at least one set that fits that description.

Nielsen researchers found that 10.1 percent of all households would have no access to TV signals if the transition occurred today.

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.

By age, of those 35 and younger, 12.3 percent rely solely on over-the-air broadcasts. Of those age 55 and older, 9.4 percent fall into that category.

The survey noted that 16.8 percent of all households have at least one set that would not work after the switch.

The Nielsen survey was done as part of its overall television rankings. The company said the statistics were gathered over 18 months in visits to a national sample of roughly 15,000 homes.

Meanwhile, the Public Interest Research Group released a survey this week reporting that secret shoppers found that employees at some of the nation's biggest retailers were uninformed about the transition and often gave incorrect information.

The secret shoppers tested employees from 132 locations of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Circuit City Stores Inc., Best Buy, and Radio Shack Corp. in 10 states.

Nationally, the study of sales staff found that 81 percent of sales staff provided inaccurate information about converter boxes, 42 percent provided inaccurate information about the transition date, and 20 percent tried to sell surveyors digital TVs or upscale converter boxes.

However, Jackie Forman, a spokesman for Circuit City, said, "We would note that the secret shopper visits to stores nationwide reportedly occurred last fall, before the government finalized many of its plans for the DTV transition."

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