Time Warner Cable is pulling the plug on the county's only 24-hour source for statewide and New England news.
The company's decision to withdraw New England Cable News (NECN) from all Berkshire County subscribers at the end of this month also applies to customers on its other systems in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.
For statewide news coverage, Berkshire cable customers served by Time Warner's Albany, N.Y., division will continue to have only part-time access to Boston's WCVB (Channel 5) in Central and South Berkshire, and WBZ-TV (Channel 4) in North Berkshire, as well as two Springfield channels.
Word of the decision outraged state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, whose district includes 20 towns, all but three in South Berkshire. Five of his Berkshire towns -- Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge -- are served by Time Warner, which also covers Pittsfield, Dalton, Richmond, North Adams, Adams, Williamstown and several other Berkshire communities.
In an email message from his Greensboro, N.C., office, Time Warner's Eastern U.S. Public Relations Director Scott Pryzwansky wrote, "We're always evaluating the value of the programming on our lineup, and we occasionally add or drop channels. We do not believe NECN represents a good value for all of our New England customers. Value includes several factors, including cost, viewership and unique content."
Pryzwansky said the decision to drop the channel is final.
NECN officials had no immediate comment on Time Warner's decision.
The channel, based in Newton just west of Boston, bills itself as the largest 24-hour regional news network in the country, specializing in long-form journalism and serving 3.6 million subscribers in more than 1,050 cities and towns in all six New England states. The winner of numerous prestige awards, It offers 24-hour news, sports, weather and traffic coverage and also maintains a website, necn.com, with similar content.
"I'm growing extremely frustrated with Time Warner Cable," Pignatelli told The Eagle on Tuesday. "I really believe it's coming down to money. They just don't want to pay the bill with NECN. They are a New York-based company and they don't care about the Berkshires."
Because of its proximity to New York state, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines Berkshire County as part of the Albany, N.Y. TV territory, which is why the majority of commercial broadcast TV signals carried by Time Warner here are from New York's capital city.
The cable company blacks out two Springfield and one Boston station for much of the day, which has angered some subscribers who seek coverage of breaking news from the rest of the state -- for example, during the Boston Marathon bombing last April 15.
"NECN is the last link to Boston and New England news that folks in Berkshire County will have," Pignatelli said. "I think it's wrong, I blame Time Warner, and I blame the FCC for not paying attention to how these territories are designed."
Lacking any other recourse, Pignatelli said he's encouraging viewers to cut the cable cord and subscribe to DirectTV or Dish Network satellite services.
New England Cable News is owned by Comcast, the nation's largest cable company and the dominant system in most of Massachusetts and other portions of New England. Time Warner is the second largest nationally. According to financial media, Comcast may be preparing a bid to take over Time Warner, though that effort could run afoul of federal antitrust regulations.
Two smaller cable companies, Charter Communications and Cox Communications, are also reported to be considering a takeover of Time Warner.
Nationwide, Time Warner has 11.4 million TV subscribers, but lost 306,000 between July 1 and Sept. 30, in part because of a summertime dispute that blacked out CBS and Showtime to customers in several major cities, including New York.
"I think we're just getting a song and dance," Pignatelli said. "At the end of the day, it's about money, Time Warner is becoming a New York-centric cable company, and people in Massachusetts are upset about it."
Although Time Warner provides its own 24-hour news channel based in Albany, with occasional coverage of major Berkshire stories, Pignatelli said that "people want to know what's going on in other parts of the state, whether it be Springfield or Boston. It's the Red Sox, it's the Celtics, it's the bombing, it's the JFK 50th anniversary. People want to see these things."
Pignatelli posed, "Is New England Sports Network the next one to be pulled? Time Warner is not committed to Massachusetts."
Albany channels have no interest in such coverage, the lawmaker said, "but we're Massachusetts residents. Federal regulators don't know where Berkshire County is, and people in our federal delegation who rewrote the laws don't seem to want to do anything about it either, so we're on our own."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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