Sacramento is nation’s 10th-least-prepared city for digital TV, Nielsen says

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke came to Sacramento on Tuesday with a message: Those who are not ready to make the switch to digital TV need to hop to it.

Locke, speaking during a brief ceremony at the Sacramento Central Library downtown, said Nielsen Co. estimates show Sacramento is the 10th-least-ready city in the country for the June 12 transition from analog to digital television, with about 68,000 households unprepared.

That’s about 4.5 percent of the metro area surveyed.

“That seems like a small number, but the truth is we want people in the Sacramento area to be prepared,” Locke said. “We want people to not only watch their favorite programs and stations but to have access to important information on weather, police and fire, and important announcements like Amber Alerts.”

The switch is intended to offer improved TV picture and sound quality while freeing radio airwaves for wireless broadband services and public safety communications.

The nationwide DTV switch originally was set for Feb. 17, but just before the deadline, Congress postponed the shutdown of analog TV signals.

At that time, the Nielsen Co. said 18 percent of U.S. households were not ready for the transition, and many who had received $40 federal government coupons to defray the cost of buying digital converter boxes that enable older TVs to receive digital signals had let the coupons expire.

To complicate things, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration overseeing the coupons had hit its $1.34 billion funding limit set by Congress.

Since then, funds have been freed up by expired coupons and other adjustments, and numerous local outreach programs have directed coupons into the hands of consumers.

Locke was joined Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, both of whom want local residents who are not digital-ready to have access to coupons.

Johnson stressed the “public safety” significance of the June 12 transition, and Matsui, who voted in favor of the deadline delay in February, said the extra time had allowed 24,000 area households to prepare.

Back in February, Matsui said, nearly 6,000 people in Sacramento alone were on the coupon waiting list. Now, she said, there is no list, and “we want to help everyone we can.”

Locke said about 3.5 million U.S. households are not ready for the June 12 switch, down from 6.5 million in February.

In February, the Obama administration lobbied hard for the postponement. The administration and groups like Consumers Union contended that many of the unprepared were poor and minorities.

On Tuesday, Joel Kelsey, a policy analyst with Consumers Union, praised the government’s efforts to help consumers make the transition.

“All of these improvements were made possible by Congress deciding to delay the transition and provide much-needed funding,” he said.