The BBC Trust has approved the launch of a free-to-air satellite service with ITV.
The decision, which will provide digital TV to viewers who have been unable to access Freeview, has been welcomed by campaigners for lower income and elderly households.
Currently Freeview, which is broadcast through terrestrial transmitters and aerials, is unavailable to 25 per cent of TV viewers.
Like Freeview, Freesat will require a one-off payment for the reception equipment.
It would also provide an alternative to BSkyB and cable as a way of receiving digital channels.
The BBC Trust made the decision following research showing 93 per cent of respondents said the BBC should take action to improve access to its digital services in the lead up to digital switchover in 2012.
The high definition-enabled service is expected to launch in spring next year.
BBC director-general Mark Thompson said: ‘The BBC’s objective in launching Freesat is to support digital switchover by providing another way for licence payers to receive digital television channels and radio services, subscription free from the BBC and ITV.
‘Its primary purpose is to drive digital take-up in analogue homes, particularly in those areas which are out of digital terrestrial coverage.’
ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said: ‘Freesat will build on the success of Freeview by offering viewers a simple and cost effective way of upgrading to digital TV.
‘By filling in the current gaps in Freeview coverage, Freesat will ensure that a free-to-air, no strings attached option for accessing digital TV is available to the whole of the UK ahead of digital switchover.
‘By offering HD capability we will future proof Freesat if, as expected, high definition television continues to capture the imagination of UK viewers.’
Help the Aged said Freesat would open up access to digital viewing to lower income and older households.
Senior policy manager David Sinclair said: ‘This is good news for those lower income and pensioner households who may well be at risk of being left behind in the dash for digital television.
‘This decision today should ensure that those older people who cannot afford subscription-based services will be able to enjoy digital television at a similar level with all other customers.’
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