US lawmakers have approved a plan to switch off the analog television signal across the nation by April 7, 2009.

The Senate Commerce Committee has also proposed setting aside $3 billion (€2.5bn; £1.69bn) in subsidies to help convert the estimated 73 million TV sets that presently rely on antennas to receive signals instead of via cable or satellite.

Says committee chairman Senator Ted Stevens: "We take the position that if we're mandating this conversion we cannot leave people behind."

The switch to digital only broadcasting would free up valuable radio spectrum. It would raise around $10bn if auctioned to telecoms firms. The rest would be used to expand two-way radio communications for emergency responders.

The measure still has to make its passage through the US Congress.

  • Meantime, the next president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters will be David Rehr, a beer-industry lobbyist. He succeeds Edward Fritz.

    Broadcasters hope Rehr will deflect efforts in Congress and by media watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission, to impose tougher indecency standards and to win more channel access on cable systems after the digital-TV transition.

    Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff