WASHINGTON DC: The US government has agreed to subsidize the switchover from analog to digital television, to the tune of around $1.5 billion (€1.13bn; £777m). The aid will come in the form of two $40 coupons to offset the purchase of set-top converter boxes.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration plan envisions that around 33,750 of the coupons will be available. Although on offer to everyone, the coupons are primarily intended to help poorer households.

Between 85% and 90% of American households subscribe to some form of pay-TV, which means they will not require converter boxes. However, according to the Government Accountability Office, that still leaves an estimated 19 million homes where viewers depend on an antenna for their service.

Without the means to receive a digital signal their screens will go dark when switchover is completed in February 2009. Householders can apply for coupons from the beginning of next year.

Says commerce secretary Carlos Gutierrez: "The coupon program is designed to help ease the transition to digital TV. Not only will the transition help expand consumer choices, but more importantly [it] will enable more efficient use of the nation's airwaves providing new advanced wireless services and increased public safety services for all Americans."

Parts of the analog spectrum will be used by US emergency services to improve communications. The rest will be auctioned to telcos and others clamoring to extend cheaper broadband web access.

Data sourced from New York Times; additional content by WARC staff