U.S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts was in Pittsfield Friday to announce legislation that he said would force cable giant Charter Communications to the bargaining table to discuss the service it provides Berkshire County.
Saying Berkshire County is in an “uproar” over the issue, Senator Markey came to Pittsfield’s city council chambers Friday, flanked by local politicians as he excoriated the company at the heart of the controversy.
“The residents of Berkshire County have lost access to vital local broadcast television, and that is unacceptable," said Markey. "It makes absolutely no sense that the region’s cable provider, Charter, dropped WWLP, Channel 22, a Springfield NBC affiliate from its channel lineup.”
WWLP was dropped after Charter Communications bought out Time Warner Cable in 2016, and it wasn’t the last Massachusetts channel to go. Another was removed this June.
“Charter also dropped WCVB, Channel 5, a Boston ABC station, off the air. Why did Charter do this?" asked Markey. "Because the cable company isn’t willing to spend a nickel to maintain its customers’ historical access to these local stations. But customers are still paying plenty of nickels as cable bills go up and up and up.”
Berkshire County is considered an orphan county. The Nielsen Company’s Designated Market Area map locates it in the Albany, New York market. A Charter representative told WAMC earlier this year that the company considers itself in compliance with law, as it is “required to carry the in-market affiliates of the major networks,” and that it “[carries] the designated in-market affiliates” for the market the Berkshires officially exists in.
“But since the Berkshires is designated as part of the Albany media market, the broadcast stations they receive focus on New York sports, news, and politics, and not Massachusetts," continued the senator. "That is why this week I introduced legislation that will force Charter Communications to come to the table to and to find a solution that brings WWLP and WCVB back on the air.”
Markey said fellow Democrat Elizabeth Warren is cosponsoring the bill, and that he and Congressman Richard Neal — the Democratic representative from Massachusetts’ first district — have jointly introduced the legislation into their respective houses. Markey says while the bill calls for the reinstatement of local programming, it will also “preserve Berkshire County residents’ access to Albany, New York stations that provide relevant weather updates and important emergency information.”
Markey, who was either the chairman or ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications from 1987 to 2008, said he had another federal ally in the fight for Charter to reinstate the two channels for Berkshire viewers.
“Federal Communications Commissioner Chairman Ajit Pai was in the Berkshires last month and committed to working with us to get the broadcasting that the region is demanding,” said Markey.
The mayors of the Berkshires’ largest cities, Linda Tyer of Pittsfield and Tom Bernard of North Adams, also spoke. Both cities have held public hearings on customer complaints with Charter service, and both have demanded reports from the company.
“They’ve responded, but in my opinion, it was first delayed, and quite frankly I dispute some of the data that’s in their report," said Tyer. Charter delivered its report on Pittsfield to the city council on Tuesday, months after Tyer’s initial request to receive it by the end of April.
“And this further erodes my trust in this company who makes a lot of money off the people of Pittsfield,” said the mayor.
In a written statement to WAMC, Charter said it “remains open-minded about a solution that doesn’t drive up costs or result in a negative viewing experience” for its Massachusetts customers.