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Many Hispanics unprepared for DTV transition due to language barrier

Hispanic television viewers make up about one-third of the U.S. households that rely on antennas to receive over-the-air broadcasts. Yet, that group is least prepared for the DTV transition coming in February.

This information was revealed in a new survey by Knowledge Networks/SRI Home Technology Monitor. It was confirmed by Nielsen, who wrote in a May report that Hispanic households are among the least ready for the analog turnoff.

Local Spanish-language broadcasters, the “Washington Post” reported, are trying to get the word out about the digital switchover. However, there is concern that Hispanic viewers will wait until the last minute to take the necessary steps to keep watching TV.

“It seems everyone knows it’s going to happen — they’re just not sure what to do about it,” Rudy Guernica, general manager of Entravision Communications, told the newspaper. “We’re going to get a lot of phone calls, and then it will get sorted out.”

Despite assurances by members of the Bush administration, who will be out of office when the transition occurs, members of Congress and community leaders worry that efforts to inform non English-speaking viewers has fallen short.

Some stations worry they could lose their audiences after the transition. The Telemundo affiliate in Washington, D.C., the “Post” reported, operates as a low-powered station and is not yet required by the FCC to switch to digital signals. Viewers will not be able to receive these stations’ shows after the transition unless they buy a converter box with an analog pass-through feature. Currently, these boxes are available only online, a hurdle for consumers without Internet access.

“For minority broadcasters, this is a major issue,” Wendy Thompson, the station’s general manager, told the newspaper. “We have to expect the worst and hope for the best.”

Nationally, more than 40 percent of Spanish-speaking households watch over-the-air television, according to the Knowledge Networks/SRI survey. Though major education efforts are underway to inform Spanish viewers about the impending transition, many think large numbers of over-the-air viewers will be left behind.

Rev. Luis Cortés Jr., president of Esperanza USA, a faith-based organization in Philadelphia that has tried to get the word out about the transition, told the “Post” he suspects that many people with limited incomes won’t bother to apply for a converter-box coupon until their TVs don’t work. “Their eyes glaze over when you say digital because it means nothing to them — they don’t have computers, they don’t have iPods,” he said. “The only national media vehicle in Spanish is TV.”