The UK's television switchover starts on October 17 when thousands of homes in Whitehaven, Cumbria, receive digital channels for the first time.

The switch is the first step in a nationwide programme which will ensure free terrestrial digital television (Freeview) is available to virtually all UK households. Currently one-in-four homes across the country are not able to receive digital TV via an aerial.

The two-stage switchover starts at approximately 2am tomorrow morning when analogue BBC Two is replaced with the first group of digital services.

Stage two takes place in 4 weeks' time on November 14 when the remaining three analogue channels - BBC One, ITV1 and Channel 4 - are replaced with a further 15 digital channels. Homes in the area will then have access to 20 Freeview channels, including BBC Three and Four, BBC News 24, ITV digital channels, E4, More 4 and ten radio networks.

The same process will be followed region by region across the UK from 2008-2012, extending coverage of Freeview channels to 98.5% of households, up from 73% today.

Ford Ennals, Chief Executive of Digital UK, said Whitehaven was well prepared with 4 weeks still to go before the final analogue television signals are switched off.

Research carried out on the eve of the first stage of switchover indicates high levels of awareness and readiness among the local population.

A recent GfK/NOP poll indicates that with four weeks to go until the area goes fully digital, more than nine out of ten said they had already converted at least one television set to digital. The remainder said they were planning to get digital television by time switchover is complete.