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That said, the NAB supports the proposal as long as stations aren’t forced or pressured to give up their frequencies. If stations must move, the NAB wants to make sure they aren’t the ones paying for it and won’t face more interference or any reduction in how far their signals go. Wharton says the House bill includes good protections for broadcasters, but a similar measure in the Senate does not.

Television stations once had Channels 2 to 83, except for 37, which is used for astronomy. Channels 70 to 83, mostly used to retransmit signals from other channels, disappeared in the 1980s and have been reassigned to other uses. Stations gave up Channels 52 to 69 in 2009 as part of a transition to digital broadcasts, and much of that has already been reassigned.

The House-passed bill would allocate some of what’s left from the digital transition to build a broadband network for public safety. It would also auction off spectrum that police, firefighters and emergency workers now use for voice communications.

Depending on how many stations want to participate, Channels 31 to 51, excluding 37, could be freed up under the proposed program.

The changes could ultimately take several years and won’t be easy. The NAB says nearly 40 percent of the nation’s 1,735 full-powered stations now use one of the 20 channels targeted. Broadcasters would have to upgrade equipment, and viewers using antennas would have to find the station’s new home.