US lawmakers have finally reached agreement on a digital TV transition date.

In a compromise thrashed out between the House of Representatives and the Senate, the switch from analog broadcasts will be made by February 17, 2009. It also provides for up to $1.5 billion (€1.25bn; £852m) in subsidies to help buy equipment that will enable old-technology TV sets to continue functioning in the digital age.

Under the legislation, owners of an estimated 73 million analog sets can apply for two vouchers, worth $40 apiece. The cost of converter boxes is estimated to be between $50 and $60.

Originally the House plan required all broadcasters to cease analog transmissions by December 31, 2008 and proposed an $830m subsidy fund. [WAMN: 22-Nov-05]. The senate, on the other hand, wanted a switchover date of April 7, 2009 and a $3bn fund.

The newest proposals, expected to be signed off by President George W Bush later this week, have been welcomed by industry bodies.

Says National Cable & Telecommunications Association ceo Kyle McSlarrow: "We'll continue to work hard to educate consumers about the transition and to help prepare all Americans for the 2009 transition date."

However Gene Kimmelman from the Consumers Union comments: "How many people are going to know they have to send an application to the Department of Commerce? There's something fundamentally unfair about making perfectly good analog TV sets go black because the government wanted to change things."

The auction of the analog spectrum is expected to raise around $10bn for federal coffers.

Data sourced from USA Today Online; additional content by WARC staff