Angry subscribers confronted representatives of cable giant Spectrum at a public meeting in Pittsfield Monday night.
“Mayor, I thank you very much for holding this meeting. I think it’s extremely important for the people of Pittsfield and the surrounding towns to be able come out and voice their really deep concerns. I appreciate two of you being here — and god bless you, it’s not going to be a fun night for you, I just have to say that," said State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier — a Democrat from Pittsfield — kicking off a long and rancorous evening which saw Berkshire County residents present their frustrations to representatives of Spectrum, formerly Time Warner before Charter Communications acquired and rebranded the cable, phone, and internet provider in 2016. The company has a monolithic hold on the region, and its transition to new service policies has left customers furious for many reasons. A prevailing attitude at the meeting at the Berkshire Athenaeum was that the company was preying on the community’s most vulnerable.
“I’m going to tell you that I hear mostly from the elderly. And I find that particularly abhorrent, that a company — a big corporation — is taking advantage of the elderly. Convoluted bills. People cannot make heads nor tails of their bill. They’re different from month to month, from one household to another household with the exact same service, the bills are different,” said Farley-Bouvier.
To get service under the new Spectrum policies, subscribers must now install cable boxes. Installation can be tricky — and it also isn’t free.
“That’s almost being discriminatory and illegal, in my mind, because you’re require that people have this box to watch cable, and 30 percent of the population of Pittsfield is disabled and elderly," said June Hailer. She is the chair for Pittsfield’s Commission on Disabilities. Hailer says she came after learning it would cost $35 for Spectrum to install her box.
“Everybody has a right to be connected with the world, and most people who are disabled or elderly are on fixed incomes, and all they can do to connect to the world is watch TV. And Spectrum is stopping them from doing that,” said Hailer.
A sense of isolation emerged in other criticisms as well.
“Many people tonight talked about how they feel disconnected from their state and their local goings on. That they’ve lost Channel 22, which is a Springfield station, well that provided Massachusetts news and information for people. Well, Pittsfield Community Television’s channels are just as important on a local level, for people to be able to pay attention to what’s going on in their local government, or their local school committee, or their local eduction," said Shawn Serre, executive director of Pittsfield Community Television. The station has seen its channels moved into the lower 1300s under Spectrum, far from corporate offerings, and its HD-quality programming compressed into lesser formats.
“Just so many programs that they watch and that they can keep in touch with that they feel like they’re part of the community when they see these programs. That’s the most important thing. And when they can’t find that, they feel disconnected,” said Serre.
“This is a basic way we get information. We’re isolated enough out here in Berkshire County, and to be cut off from basic information is completely unfair and unjust,” said Farley-Bouvier.
Berkshire County is one of the poorest in the state, and Spectrum’s rates have increased since its acquisition by Charter.
“I actually received Section 8, and I’m on a limited income. I receive about $675 a month, and I’m paying almost a third of that to Spectrum for my internet, cable, and home phone," said Dee Gardiner of Adams.
“When our economy is as bad as it is right now, we need to think about those that can’t afford it all,” Gardiner said.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer says the city expects a contractually obligated annual report from Spectrum on the state of service to the city before the end of April.