Barrett To Time-Warner: Come To The Table Or Go To Court

By Susan BushPrint Story | Email Story
Mayor John Barrett III
North Adams - Scheduled to take effect on Feb. 26, Time-Warner cable changes go way beyond elimination of WBZ channel 4 and Mayor John Barrett III said that company officials will either negotiate the matter "at the table" or the matter will be resolved in the courts.

Barrett said the city has initiated steps to a court action in an attempt to stop the changes from taking effect in February.

"Time Warner's gonna come here," he said. "They're gonna sit down with us whether they want to or not."

Channel 22 Banished From Basic Tier

During a Jan. 25 press conference, Barrett provided media representatives with copies of the changes as provided by Time-Warner, a copy of his letter to John S. Mucha, the company director of government relations, and a copy of the document that approved transfer of the municipal license granted to the former Adelphia company to Time-Warner.

"There are so many changes we believe they are in violation of their contract," Barrett said.

In addition to removing WBZ, the company also removed Channel 22, which is used as a classified advertisement venue and a broadcast arena for city-based radio station WNAW, from the basic services tier and relocated it to channel 79. That channel is not offered via the inexpensive basic channel tier.

The channel is very popular with city residents, particularly older citizens, Barrett said, and noted that is the population least able to afford the higher priced "standard tier" channel line-up.

"Many of our citizens wake up to [Channel 22] every morning," he said. "This will have a real detrimental impact on our citizens."

Fox New England Sports Gone

The city's contract with the company does require that the company negotiate with the city or face court action, Barrett said.

Other channels removed from more costly tier options include the Fox Sports New England channel, Discovery Home and Discovery Times channel, CMT Pure Country, the Black Family Channel, and Nicktoons Network, and VH1 Classic Rock.

Time-Warner Said...

The cable company license transfer agreement does acknowledge the local interest in WBZ. According to the document, "Finally, the following continuing cable needs and interests, [although not license requirements] were expressed to and on behalf of the licensing authority and by the public at the September 15, 2006 public hearing: The strong interest in retaining Boston based television channels and programming, including, but not limited to, WBZ [channel 4] and WCVB [channel 5]. Notwithstanding the city's geographic proximity to the update New York, the City of North Adams and its residents are an integral part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, with significant interests to the governmental, political, business, cultural, sports [including but not limited to the games of the New England Patriots] and other aspects and institutions throughout the Commonwealth, particularly its capital city, Boston."

The document further states that although the company was unable to commit to keeping specific Boston channels because of "must-carry" regulations and contracted issues with broadcasters, the representative "indicated that not only was there no intention on behalf of Time-Warner N.Y. Cable LLC to eliminate or reduce Boston channels or programming but also that it was the desire of this company to meet this recognized subscriber interest."

"They sat right in this office, as they did other offices, offices of town managers and such, and said there would be no changes," Barrett said. "Hopefully, we will go before a judge who will understand what they've done."

TV-Trapped...And This Isn't "Pleasantville"

The lack of cable company competition is a significant consumer detriment, Barrett said, and he noted that while many residents can ditch the cable company in favor of a satellite receiver [the "dish"], there are housing complexes that prohibit receiver installation.

"Those people are trapped," Barrett said.

He publicly challenged U.S. Congressman Edward Markey, who was heavily involved in telecommunications deregulation legislation, to involve himself on behalf of consumers.

"Deregulation was supposed to develop competition," Barrett said.

With public meetings held in September and an agreement signed several weeks later, some people might find it difficult to believe cable company changes weren't already in the works.

"From day one, they said 'don't worry,'" Barrett said. "In fact, they said they would provide people with services that would save money. This is the only industry I know that can sign a contract and then do whatever they want."

Barrett noted that the changes affect the communities of Clarksburg, Cheshire, Adams, Williamstown, and Florida as well as the city. Support from those communities including support in a "friends of the court" capacity, would be appreciated, Barrett said.

"We are prepared to go into court and seek an injunction to stop the changes until we know that they have a right to [make the changes]," Barrett said.
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