A US senate committee has backed a bill setting April 2009 as the new deadline to switch off analogue television signals.

The Senate Commerce Committee overwhelmingly backed the bill imposing a hard deadline. This would replace the current switch-off target of the end of 2006, or when 85% of households in the country have digital receivers.

With an estimated 73 million receivers and 21 million households dependent on analogue television broadcasts, analysts expect the transition could take a decade unless a definite date is set.

The proposed legislation would provide a fund of up to $3 billion to subsidise the cost of digital converters. An auction of spectrum capacity released could bring in billions of dollars.

“I don’t expect to lose that $3 billion,” said committee chairman Senator Ted Stevens. Some of the released spectrum could also be allocated to improve communications for emergency services.

Meanwhile, the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents the interests of free-to-air radio and television stations has selected the president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association as its new president. David Rehr will take up the post in December, replacing Eddie Fritts, who will remain a consultant to the NAB.

The NAB has backed Thomson and LG Electronics to develop low-cost digital converter boxes. The initiative is also supported by MSTV, the Association for Maximum Service Television.