Around 50 residents filed into the American Legion Post 125 Monday to ask questions, give testimony and bluntly complain to four spectrum representatives Brandon Roberts, George Doin, Anna Lucey and John Fogarty during a two-hour public hearing.
"This is a very important issue for our community and it is one that I have heard a great deal about," Mayor Thomas Bernard said. "I invite you to share your complaints, your comments, and frustrations."
Late last month Bernard suggested holding a community meeting in response to complaints from many users in terms of customer service, the new digital boxes and dropped channels since Charter's takeover of Time-Warner.
Bernard ran through some initial questions and concerns some of which he felt were a breach of the contract with the city, which was signed in 2014 with Time Warner.
Bernard pointed to the contract and said the city was supposed to be given 30 days’ notice that the provider would be moving to digital. He said this is also an FCC regulation that Charter did not adhere too.
Executive Director of Northern Berkshire Community Television Dave Fabiano jumped in and said without the proper warning, they were unable to inform the community that the Public, Educational and Government channels (PEG Channels) would be moving from 15, 16, and 17 to 1301, 1302 and 1303.
"Without sufficient notification, it was hard to inform our viewers of what was going to happen and where to find our channels," he said. "After the conversion, many people thought that we just went off the air."
Bernard then noted that these channels are supposed to be available for everyone through basic service but because Charter forces subscribers to rent digital boxes to access these channels, customers will have to pay if they want to watch PEG channels.
Fogarty said that his read of the contract was that Charter will not charge the city to put PEG programming on the channels, but this does not extend to the viewing of the program.
"The transmission of the channels to the subscribers is not covered by that provision," he said. "It is putting programming on there. The company could not charge the city for the use of that channel."
Fabiano did not agree.
"Without that box or that fee you can’t see public access and to me, I think that goes against it," he said. "I think that is a breach of the contract."
Bernard then responded to frustrations about channels inaccessible in Berkshire County that other communities in the state can access because the FCC lumped the county in with New York state when it drew the cable market map. He added the city is actively fighting this.
Fogarty said that this was purely an FCC issue and out of Charter Spectrum’s control.
That comment drew out Rep. John Barrett III, who helped lead the charge against the cable provider, who said the FCC deemed Berkshire County "nonregulated" because they counted dish and direct tv as competition.
He said he thought this was purely to save money.
"You won’t carry anything that you don’t have to carry even though your customer base wants it and it is one of the most stupid, pennywise and foolish things that I ever heard from a company," he said. "But you know you have got us over the barrel."
He then chastised the group for being deceitful and urged Bernard to declare a breach of contract.
"Do the right thing and say that they have breached the contract because that will cost them more money than what they were going to channel 5 to carry the signal," he said.
The dialogue was opened to the public and residents made statements spanning from difficulties paying bills, substandard customer service, inconsistent billing and even complaints with how complicated the remotes were.
City Councilor Jason LaForest took to the microphone and told of his own horror story dealing with the cable provider citing increased costs for substandard service.
He then accused Charter Spectrum of taking advantage of Berkshire County and other rural communities and asked them to do the right thing.
"Here is your opportunity to do the right thing."
City Councilor Marie Harpin also spoke and said she had issues with customer service and was unable to advertise on channel 22 in a timely manner.
"It is simple customer service that you are not providing to the community," she said. "We are not asking you to change the world…customer service just needs to be better locally and you really need to step up to the plate."
Roberts did apologize for the customer service issues and did ask some residents with specific complaints to meet with him after.
He did say that people are most likely seeing price increases because their Time Warner promotional plans are running their course and customers will have to take on a more expensive plan.
Fabiano went into some of his more technical concerns and said according to their agreement, Charter was supposed to install lines in specific public buildings throughout North County that would allow for a live feed. He said they have been waiting for over two years now and have yet to get a straight answer or a timeline for when these lines will be installed.
Fogarty said the company was aware of their obligation but still could not give a solid date.
Multiple residents shared their frustration about being unable to pay their bill because they weren’t the account holder and others said simply getting in contact with Spectrum was a challenge.
Resident Dick Dassatti, who spoke towards the end of the meeting, had some simple advice for the attendees – cut the cord.
"I think the most effective way to deal with the company…is a willingness to tell them you want your tv disconnected tell them that," he said. "When you tell them that you will get better service and a better deal."
Bernard said the city will continue to review the contract for other inconstancies possible breaches. He said the city will push back if needed.
"I think what you are hearing from the people is that…North Adams is getting lost in the shuffle and that is something we will not stand for," he said.
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