As part of the consultation, meetings will be held across the country, allowing the public to discuss their views directly with ministers.
Jowell said that charter reviews have been conducted in a range of ways before, but pointed out they had all excluded the public.
"Previous charter reviews have been conducted in a range of ways. By the great and the good. By ministers and civil servants. But this review will be different. For the first time the driving force will be the British people. Through the licence fee, they are in effect the BBC's shareholders," she said.
Jowell added that the review must result in a "strong BBC" adapted for the future as the industry goes through "rapid technological change", and that the organisation to emerge from the review will be editorially "autonomous and independent from government".
The public are being asked a range of questions about how they value the BBC including what they appreciate most about the service, what they think of its TV, radio and online offerings and how it should adapt to cope with changes in technology and culture.
Opinions will also be sought on issues such as the licence fee, whether or not the corporation is efficiently run, how it should be regulated and whether it is sufficiently accountable to the public and to parliament.
The consultation will close at the end of March 2004 and submissions are accepted via email or post. The review is being supported by a BBC Charter Review website, and information leaflets entitled 'Your BBC Your Say' will be available from public libraries.
The BBC will use its TV, radio and online services to encourage debate about its review and to raise awareness that it is taking place.
This will help shape the BBC's response to the DCMS's questions, which will be published in March along with its vision and consultation paper about what the BBC should be in the 21st century.
Greg Dyke, BBC director general, said: "The secretary of state is asking interesting and challenging questions and we look forward to an open and rigorous debate in which, of course, the BBC will be playing its full part."
He also applauded Jowell for committing to the "continuation of a strong, independent BBC" and for recognising that the BBC plays a "unique role in defining what Britain is as a nation".
The BBC's charter review will be completed by January 1 2007 and will consist of a number of consultations and investigations into its services, involving the public and the industry.
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