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For some local TV viewers, changes are coming this week

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If you get your television programming over the airwaves rather than through a cable or satellite dish, your favorite local channels are about to disappear — but not for long.

This week, nine Boston-area broadcast stations will switch to new frequencies, as part of a plan to make more efficient use of the airwaves and to improve the nation’s cellular data networks. The Federal Communications Commission has sold off frequencies worth more than $19 billion to telecom companies including Comcast, Dish, and T-Mobile, with about $10 billion going to the TV stations.

But now, about one thousand US TV stations must vacate their old frequencies by mid-2020 to make way for cellular service. The major Boston stations are cleared to make the transition at any time between now and Friday. When those stations shift, over-the-air viewers will have to reprogram their TV sets to find their favorite programs.

Luckily, rescanning channels isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s the same process used when connecting an antenna to a new TV. Go to the TV’s setup menu, and find the command that scans for available broadcast channels. The exact method will vary by the brand of TV, but not by much. Once the rescan is complete, you should be able to watch TV as usual. Jean Kiddoo, chair of the FCC’s incentive auction task force, said the stations’ new broadcast signals ought to cover the same areas as before, at the same level of quality.


The familiar channel numbers stay the same — Channel 5 will still be Channel 5. Also, the change only involves broadcast frequencies. Users of cable and satellite systems will not be affected. But according to market research firm Nielsen, 14 percent of US households rely on free broadcast TV. And that number is surging. Last week, pay TV giants Comcast, Charter, and AT&T said a total of 1.2 million households cancelled their cable and satellite subscriptions in the second quarter of 2019.


The stations changing frequencies include CBS 4, ABC 5, Fox 25, NBC 10, PBS 44, PBS 2, UniMas 27, Channel 68, and Channel 23.

You can get more information at the FCC website https://www.fcc.gov/TVrescan, or by calling 888-CALL-FCC (888-225-5322) between 8 a.m. and 1 a.m., EST, then dialing options 1 and 6.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.