Elected Leaders Unite To Compel Charter To Restore Tv Channels
Vowing to be "insistent and persistent," U.S. Sen. Edward Markey outlined a plan Friday to compel Charter Communications to restore two lost TV stations to subscribers in the Berkshires, escalating a yearlong dispute.
The Berkshire Eagle reports, joined by the mayors of Pittsfield and North Adams and three of the region's state representatives, Markey said newly filed legislation would require cable company executives to "engage in good-faith negotiations" to bring WWLP Channel 22 of Springfield and WCVB Channel 5 of Boston back into its offerings.
Markey conceded that earlier efforts by lawmakers came up short.
The company dropped the channels over the last two years, saying they duplicated programming from ABC and NBC affiliates that Charter is required to carry in the Albany media market under Federal Communications Commission rules.
Markey called the lost access unacceptable.
Andrew Russell, Charter's director of communications for the Northeast, said the company is willing to work toward a solution.
Markey did not provide a sense of when the issue might be addressed or resolved.
The senator also indicated that the legislation, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, is in part an effort to bring Charter back into talks.
Jim Cantwell, Markey's state director, said a meeting with Charter officials is scheduled for next week.
Markey said fairness demands that Charter provide the in-state news programming that supports interests of engaged citizens.
FCC rules require companies like Charter to carry in-market affiliates of the major networks. It is not alone among cable companies in not providing broadcast channels from other markets.
"The FCC should join with us in this fight," Markey said.
At times during Friday's press conference, officials cited frustrations with Charter that go beyond the issue of the lost channels, including service complaints and cost increases.
North Adams Mayor Bernard noted the presence of a WWLP Channel 22 camera at the press conference, using that to illustrate a gap in broadcast news coverage.
Several lawmakers noted that in an election year, thousands of TV viewers in the Berkshires no longer have access to Massachusetts TV stations covering campaigns that will be decided in November.
State Representative Barrett said the coalition of leaders that stood together in the council chambers is determined to win the fight.
He twice cited a dramatic rise in Charter's stock price, suggesting the channel cuts were not driven by a need to economize.
And Barrett, the former longtime mayor of North Adams, said that when Charter purchased the Time Warner cable system, it failed to live up to promises related to that operation.