By Arshad Mohammed Washington Post Staff Writer
Senate Commerce Committee staffers have drafted a bill setting April7, 2009 -- the day after March Madness ends -- as the date to end nationwide analog TV broadcasts and complete the switch to digital transmission.
Millions of people who watch traditional, over-the-air analog broadcasts on sets with antennas will have to buy new digital TVs or set-top converter boxes to keep getting signals.
Congressional aides said they settled on the deadline -- which falls one day after the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball championships -- so as not to cut off any TV viewers at the height of the popular college basketball tournament.
Aides also said they hoped to give consumers plenty of time to buy new sets and are making plans to offer a federal subsidy of undetermined size to help people afford converter boxes.
Ending analog broadcasts, which have brought everything from "I Love Lucy" to NFL Football into living rooms for decades, will free up spectrum already set aside to improve police, firefighter and other emergency communications.
It will also bring a windfall in federal revenue by allowing the government to auction off spectrum to private companies who hope to exploit it for wireless Internet access and other high-tech uses.
In a letter yesterday, Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and 30 other executives urged Congress to set a deadline quickly and argued it will be a boon to the economy.