The BBC Trust has provisionally approved the launch of free-to-view digital satellite service Freesat.
It will enable viewers to access channels from the BBC and other public service broadcasters via a satellite dish and set-top box.
Freesat will be ‘subscription free and guaranteed to stay that way’, the trust said.
The service would create ‘significant public value’ for licence fee payers by offering them an additional way of accessing digital TV and radio, it added.
Between 2008 and 2012, every household in Britain will be required to switch over to digital.
Seven million homes have yet to make the switch.
Acting BBC chairman Chitra Bharucha said: ‘As each UK nation and region switches to digital, all households that haven’t done so already will have to choose a new way to access television.
‘One of the benefits arising from digital switchover will be greater choice for viewers.
‘For those seven million homes yet to make the switch, it needs to be clear that the benefits of digital television do not need to equal ‘pay television’.
‘A new, guaranteed subscription-free satellite service would provide the public with another option when deciding which platform to choose.’
Freesat will be an alternative to Freeview, the free-to-air digital terrestrial service launched in 2002.
It allows viewers to access digital channels by buying a set-top box for a one-off fee.
But it currently reaches only three-quarters of UK homes.
Mr Bharucha said: ‘Over half of those yet to switch fall outside the Freeview coverage area. For these homes, the new service would mean being able to access BBC digital services they have already paid for via their licence fee, but until now have been unable to receive on a guaranteed subscription-free basis.’
There now follows a 28-day public consultation prior to the trust making a final decision in April.
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