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Good news for television viewers: Late this year Israelis will be able to tune into five TV channels free of charge after the one-time NIS 400 cost of a decoder. According to legislation approved Monday in its second and third reading, the package will include channels 1, 2, 10, 33 and 99.

The channels are to be digitally broadcast. The government and coalition managed to fend off objections about the package not including Russian-language channel 9, music channel 24 and educational channel 23. The treasury threatened to withdraw the bill from the Knesset if more channels were added. The bill gained 55 votes in favor and four abstentions. There were no votes against.

"The law is done, but the work is not finished. The government is now committed to establishing a platform for broadcasting free channels. We will continue to fight for the inclusion of channels 23, 9 and 24," said the chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, Likud's Gilad Erdan.

The Economic Affairs Committee decided not to include these three after heavy pressure from the HOT cable and yes satellite TV stations, the coalition, the treasury and seven lobbying firms. HOT and yes worried that including the additional channels would heavily cut their customer base, while channels 2 and 10 raised concerns about advertising competition from the other channels.

Last week yes called for concessions if the Russian channel were included in the package. The director general of the Second Authority for Radio and Television, Menashe Samira, called the law a breakthrough in television broadcasting and a significant improvement in the services provided to the public.

Digital broadcasting is expected to save the public about NIS 60 million annually, decrease the number of transmission sites, and help the environment because of less radiation and fewer and fewer antennae.