The clock has begun ticking in the countdown to the great digital television switchover in the UK.

The Blair administration's culture secretary Tessa Jowell has announced that viewers living in the borders between Scotland and England will lose their analog signal in three years. The rolling program of change to a digital-only signal will be completed throughout the country by 2012.

The government has also promised financial aid for digital equipment to disabled people and to homes where at least one person is aged 75 or over.

The £800 million ($1.44bn; €1.18bn) subsidy, which will help around six million people, will be funded by the state-owned broadcaster, the BBC, from its licence fee income.

Jowell told a TV conference: "Digital television is no longer a probability, it is a certainty. I believe it can leave us with a legacy of more choice, for more people, than anywhere in the world."

UK homes have a choice of three principal platforms for digital TV. They can buy a Freeview box, which works with a home's existing aerial, or a new television set which comes pre-fitted to receive digital TV. Digital satellite, offered by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB, involves a set-top box and satellite dish. The third option is digital cable, which again requires a set-top box.

Media watchdog Ofcom estimates 63% of households in the UK currently have some kind of digital TV access.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff