PITTSFIELD, Mass. — No matter how much the City Council and residents complain about the loss of local programming, Spectrum Cable will not be bringing it back.
Melinda Kinney of Charter Communications told the council Wednesday night that WWLP 22 and WCVB 5 Boston cost too much to bring back to the area. The national company had made a decision that it will not pay extra to carry the channels that are considered "out of market."
"There is a cost issue associated with carrying an out-of-market broadcast," she said.
Kinney told the council that the channels were pulled for two reasons -- cost and that often there were multiple channels showing the same show at the same time, leading to blackouts. Considering those two factors, the corporation decided it wasn't worth the money to keep those stations on the air in the Berkshires.
Much of the issue stems from the city being in the Albany, N.Y., television market. Time Warner Cable paid extra to carry those two "out of market" stations in the Berkshires for years -- though it certainly tried on multiple occasions not to but was faced with opposition.
Spectrum, which took over Time Warner in 2016, has cut them and hasn't cracked to public pressure to bring them back. It also hasn't bowed to pressure put on by members of Congress, members of the state Legislature, individual towns throughout the county, the mayor, or numerous residents. The City Council was added to that list on Wednesday.
That seems to be the City Council's biggest issue with the county's sole cable provider.
"I think you guys can afford it," Councilor at Large Earl Persip said, adding that if the company could only provide those channels and bring the public access stations back to lower number channels it would do a lot of good for its standing in the community.
"We had the channels. You said the channels could happen but it cost Spectrum more money. If you want to be our community partner, be our service provider, give us our news back."
At this point, Kinney said the only likely way those channels would be coming back would be if the Federal Communications Commision places the city in the Massachusetts market, which would lead to the Berkshires losing the New York stations.
"They define the designated market area. We did carry some of those legacy Boston broadcast channels but there is a significant cost to carry those when they are considered out of market," Kinney said.
The City Council will also be unsuccessful in its request to move the local public access channels back to the lower stations. Kinney said the stations were moved as part of the national model that sorts channels by genre. The channels moved from 16,17 and 18 to 1301,1302 and 1303.
Those were really the two most pressing issues for city councilors. After an hour and half of back and forth in a wide-ranging conversation about those two main topics, Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers asked directly if there is any hope for a change. And the company's answer is no.
Kinney said she had taken those concerns up the ladder to decision makers on a national level but those decisions have been made. And the City Council doesn't have the authority to make such demands, even when it negotiates a new franchise agreement in 2024.
The issues aren't something Spectrum officials haven't heard. Ever since the stations were pulled cities and towns - and even federal officials -- have been putting the company's feet to the fire over it. That was on top of pricing changes, the switch to encrypted signals, and the requirement that customers rent a cable box.
The company had already fielded an array of questions during a hearing but the City Council wanted its own shot to speak to the company. Many of the City Councilors had constituent-specific related questions most of which the representatives couldn't answer without being able to see the actual plans and services the customer is provided. There were questions about the move away from analog to digital and the associated boxes.
Spectrum officials said since that first meeting they have fielded the concerned of the citizens here and have done what they could, but much of what is happening is because of corporate decisions made across the chain nationally, such a Spectrum moving its pricing to a national model as well.
Anna Lucey, director of governmental affairs for Spectrum, said the company developed public service announcements which it will play on some 50 networks to inform people where the stations are now located. She said in response to customer service issues the company moved more employees to the area to assist.
We understand things don't always change in a major corporation but we are here to try to work with you and make improvements if we can," Lucey said.
Berkshire residents and government officials at all levels have been increasingly frustrated with Spectrum since the merger, feeling the company is providing less and less for service. Time Warner wasn't much better as the same issues cropped up in the past. Nor was the predecessor, which felt the brunt of much anger from the residents and officials before Time Warner had.
Five representatives answered questions and fielded complaints from the City Council for more than two hours Wednesday.