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Congressional Delegation Asked to Help on NECN Loss

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
03:09AM / Friday, December 13, 2013
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Updated Dec. 13, 4:27 p.m., with letter from congressional delegation to Time Warner Cable.

LENOX, Mass. — The Berkshire's state representatives are lobbying the federal government to do everything it can to keep NECN on Time Warner Cable.

Time Warner Cable announced it will be dropping the New England Cable News network from its packages, thus cutting some parts of the Berkshire off from cable access to Boston and New England news. State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and state Sen. Benjamin Downing crafted a letter Thursday urging the state's federal delegation to do whatever it can — even if that means pulling the county out of the Albany, N.Y., market — to keep the station.

"They don't see NECN as a viable entity to carry news in our area," Pignatelli said. "I think it is driven by money."

The Berkshires have long been in the Albany television market and connections to broadcast news from the state's capital has been limited. Downing said in the most recent gubernatorial race, Berkshire residents were often only able to see clips on cable television of debates — expect for the one held in Springfield.

"Residents of the Berkshires need and deserve access to information about their state government and regional news. We might be close to Albany, but Boston is our capital and that’s the news that affects our taxes, our communities, our quality of life. My hope is Time Warner will reconsider this ill-conceived decision," said Downing in a statement.

At his office later Thursday, he said, "ideally, I'd like to get us out of the Albany media market."

While the legislators hope the county can be moved out of that market, Pignatelli says that would likely be an large undertaking. At the minimum, Pignatelli hopes the federal delegation — including U.S. Sen. Edward Markey who sat on the committee that drew market lines — will at get a deal hashed out between the two entities.

Downing said he spoke with Comcast, which distributes NECN, and company officials are interesting in staying part of Time Warner's channels. So Pignatelli wants to "get them to the table" to reach a deal to continue to carry the network.

"I think it is driven by money," Pignatelli said. "Let's get NECN and Time Warner together to hammer out a deal."

The Berkshire delegation's letter states "This lack of NECN, along with channels being blocked out, means that many in the Berkshires are receiving their nightly newscasts from Albany, and not Boston or Springfield. They are effectively cut off from the rest of the state."

The congressional delegation agreed in its letter to Time Warner CEO Glen Britt: "Without NECN, Berkshires communities will be severed from other parts of the Commonwealth and be left without access to a wide range of important information about Massachusetts and New England."

The pulling of NECN may have been the "breaking" point between the Berkshires and the cable companies, said Downing. Only months ago, citing a non-compete clause, Time Warner pulled Channel 5 — another Boston area channel — from the listing. That move was made because of FCC competition rules. NECN, however, isn't being pulled for that reason.

Pignatelli said pulling NECN has trigger more calls from residents to his office than the previous change with Time Warner. The outrage is on top of already brewing frustrations between the Berkshires and the cable company.

"I am paying an awful lot of money for cable and I want Massachusetts news," Pignatelli said.

While a limited number of towns are served by Time Warner, the rest of the Berkshire Delegation has signed onto the letter.

Now, Downing and Pignatelli are asking residents to write to the FCC, the federal delegation and Time Warner to help "build the case."

The letter is available below.


The Honorable Elizabeth Warren
1550 Main Street, Suite 406
Springfield, MA 01103

The Honorable Edward Markey
1550 Main Street, 4th Floor
Springfield, MA 01101

The Honorable Richard Neal
78 Center Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
                                                                   
Dear Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Congressman Neal,

We write to you today to express our extreme disappointment and concern over the decision made by Time Warner Cable to withdraw New England Cable News (NECN) from all Berkshire County subscribers at the end of this month. Berkshire subscribers already only have part-time access to Boston channels and removing their last link to the rest of their state is unconscionable. We hope that by working together with you, our federal counterparts, we can help identify a satisfactory alternative resolution and request that a meeting between our offices be convened in western Massachusetts in the near future to discuss potential solutions.
 
As you know from a previous letter dated June 27, 2013, failed negotiations between Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television have left residents of the Berkshires with blacked out Boston channels. Now with NECN being taken off the airwaves, these residents have almost no access to Boston news.

We ask you to join us in requesting that Time Warner Cable reverse this decision and provide continued access to NECN for Berkshire residents. We also ask that you call on the FCC to redraw their Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and take Berkshire County out of the Albany market. DMAs are based on broadcast coverage, despite this being an antiquated measure, as 90 percent or more of viewers do not watch broadcast stations with an antenna.  This has continuously been a contentious issue for Berkshire County, and it a time for a concerted political effort to address this issue. We may find allies in other counties across the country who also feel that they are stuck in the wrong DMA.

This lack of NECN, along with channels being blocked out, means that many in the Berkshires are receiving their nightly newscasts from Albany, and not Boston or Springfield. They are effectively cut off from the rest of the state. This is especially problematic for several reasons. Berkshire residents are being exposed to New York public service announcements and campaign ads which deprive them the chance of being informed about the programs and candidates that serve them. Additionally, it becomes much harder for residents to stay informed on immediate news developments, such as the Boston marathon bombings and tornadoes in Springfield, and events such as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy when they do not have constant access to local channels as Albany stations do not break into their programming for out-of-state events.

We have repeatedly heard from constituents of their anger and outrage over being disconnected from their capital city. Many Berkshire residents have family, friends and colleagues who live or work in Boston, and they would like to stay informed on the activities occurring in the Eastern part of the state. Constituents of yours are not consistently getting local news that reports on what their federal representation is achieving for them in D.C. and they feel disenfranchised because of it. The Berkshires are a part of Massachusetts and should not be deprived of state news simply because of their location.

Thank you for your attention to this matter and for anything you can do to ensure that this situation is resolved in a timely manner.

Sincerely,

Representative Smitty Pignatelli                                          Senator Benjamin B. Downing
Fourth Berkshire District                                                      Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden
 
Representative Gailanne Cariddi                                        Representative Paul Mark
First Berkshire District                                                         Second Berkshire District

Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier
Third Berkshire District

cc: Governor Deval Patrick


Mr. Glenn A. Britt
Chief Executive Officer
Time Warner Cable
One Time Warner Center
New York, NY 10019

Dear Mr. Britt:

We write to you out of concern over the recent announcement that Time Warner Cable (TWC) will be dropping New England Cable News (NECN) from its service in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. Given that NECN is the only 24-hour source of televised regional news and sports coverage available to Massachusetts residents, we strongly support maintaining NECN’s availability for TWC subscribers in the Berkshires.

NECN is based in Newton, Massachusetts, but the regional news and sports programming it provides are of great importance to residents across all Massachusetts and New England. Whether it is local government developments on Beacon Hill or latest from the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, or Bruins, NECN matters to the people of the Berkshires. Without NECN, Berkshires communities will be severed from other parts of the Commonwealth and be left without access to a wide range of important information about Massachusetts and New England.

While we understand that TWC has to consider numerous factors in determining its channel offerings to consumers, we urge you to revisit and reverse TWC's decision to drop carriage of NECN.  We appreciate your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Edward J. Markey                   
U.S. Senator

Elizabeth A. Warren  
U.S. Senator  

Richard E. Neal       
U.S. Representative


Tags: cable television,   FCC,   state officials,   

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