PITTSFIELD -- State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli is seeking legislative help at the federal level to resolve a dispute between cable television companies that is resulting in "broadcaster blackouts" of Boston news programming for many of his constituents.

The Lenox Democrat said disagreements between Time Warner Cable in the Berkshires and Hearst Television Inc. and affiliates over which channels can be shown and when result in only "sporadic broadcasting" of WCVB Channel 5 in the Berkshires.

Pignatelli has written U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and U.S. Sen.-elect Ed Markey to urge that they prevail upon the Federal Communications Commission to resolve the dispute and end the blackouts.

"Failed negotiations between these two groups have led to broadcaster blackouts, effectively leaving the Berkshires with no access to Boston news," Pignatelli said.

He added that "Last May, WTEN (Channel 10), a channel out of Albany, N.Y., sent a notification of non-duplication protection to Time Warner. Because Time Warner declared this complaint to be valid under [FCC] rules, Boston ABC channel WCVB was cut off in the Berkshires."

Pignatelli said Time Warner then tried to negotiate with Hearst Television, which owns WCVB, to restore service, but Hearst requested a 300 percent increase in fees to carry Channel 5 and Time Warner refused.

"All of this has led to sporadic broadcasting on WCVB in the Berkshires," he said.

Pignatelli stressed that the primary issue is that Berkshire residents don't receive nightly news broadcasts from Channel 5, although they had for many years. The news from Channel 10 and the other Albany stations is New York-centered, he said.

"They are effectively cut off from the rest of the state," Pignatelli said, adding that public service announcements from Massachusetts and important news from the Boston area often are not available.

"I ask you to request that the FCC step in to help remedy this situation," he said in his letter to federal representatives. "Negotiations between Time Warner and Hearst need assistance if they hope to reach a satisfactory conclusion within a reasonable time frame."

Time Warner covers Pittsfield, North Adams, Lenox, Dalton, Great Barrington, Lee, Adams, Lanesboro, Sheffield, Cheshire and other large communities in Berkshire County. WBZ-TV Channel 4 from Boston is also available in the North Adams area.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247