The region's legislative delegation is calling on federal lawmakers for help in their push to reverse Time Warner Cable's decision to cut New England Cable News from Berkshire County's channel lineup.
In a letter to U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the five-member Statehouse delegation says removing the Boston-based news channel, the county's "last link to the rest of their state," is "unconscionable."
As reported Tuesday on BerkshireEagle.com, Time Warner is withdrawing NECN from all Berkshire County subscribers and other customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine at the end of the month.
The letter by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli and Sen. Benjamin Downing and the county's other legislators was sent Thursday.
"I'm proud that the entire delegation is on board with this effort to protect our constituent's rights to receive Massachusetts news," Pignatelli said in a news statement.
Berkshire County falls in the Albany, N.Y., television market, and its cable television channels that cover state news from the Statehouse and Eastern Massachusetts has eroded in recent years.
The Statehouse delegation also wants federal lawmakers to get the Federal Communications Commission to take Berkshire County out of the Albany TV market and put it into the Massachusetts one.
"Residents of the Berkshires need and deserve access to information about their state government and regional news," Downing said in his statement. "We might be close to Albany, but Boston is our capital and that's the news that affects our taxes, our communities, our quality of life. My hope is Time Warner will reconsider this ill-conceived decision."
Earlier this week, Time Warner's Eastern U.S. Public Relations Director Scott Pryzwansky told The Eagle that the decision to drop NECN is final. The company always evaluates the value of programming and adds or drops channels as a result, Pryzwansky said.
"We do not believe NECN represents a good value for all of our New England customers," Pryzwansky wrote. "Value includes several factors, including cost, viewership and unique content."
A copy of the letter follows
December 11, 2013
The Honorable Elizabeth Warren
1550 Main Street, Suite 406
Springfield, MA 01103
The Honorable Edward Markey
1550 Main Street, 4th Floor
Springfield, MA 01101
The Honorable Richard Neal
78 Center Street
Pittsfield, MA 01201
Dear Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Congressman Neal,
We write to you today to express our extreme disappointment and concern over the decision made by Time Warner Cable to withdraw New England Cable News (NECN) from all Berkshire County subscribers at the end of this month. Berkshire subscribers already only have part-time access to Boston channels and removing their last link to the rest of their state is unconscionable. We hope that by working together with you, our federal counterparts, we can help identify a satisfactory alternative resolution and request that a meeting between our offices be convened in western Massachusetts in the near future to discuss potential solutions.
As you know from a previous letter dated June 27, 2013, failed negotiations between Time Warner Cable and Hearst Television have left residents of the Berkshires with blacked out Boston channels. Now with NECN being taken off the airwaves, these residents have almost no access to Boston news.
We ask you to join us in requesting that Time Warner Cable reverse this decision and provide continued access to NECN for Berkshire residents. We also ask that you call on the FCC to redraw their Designated Market Areas (DMAs) and take Berkshire County out of the Albany market. DMAs are based on broadcast coverage, despite this being an antiquated measure, as 90 percent or more of viewers do not watch broadcast stations with an antenna. This has continuously been a contentious issue for Berkshire County, and it a time for a concerted political effort to address this issue. We may find allies in other counties across the country who also feel that they are stuck in the wrong DMA.
This lack of NECN, along with channels being blocked out, means that many in the Berkshires are receiving their nightly newscasts from Albany, and not Boston or Springfield. They are effectively cut off from the rest of the state. This is especially problematic for several reasons. Berkshire residents are being exposed to New York public service announcements and campaign ads which deprive them the chance of being informed about the programs and candidates that serve them. Additionally, it becomes much harder for residents to stay informed on immediate news developments, such as the Boston marathon bombings and tornadoes in Springfield, and events such as the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy when they do not have constant access to local channels as Albany stations do not break into their programming for out-of-state events.
We have repeatedly heard from constituents of their anger and outrage over being disconnected from their capital city. Many Berkshire residents have family, friends and colleagues who live or work in Boston, and they would like to stay informed on the activities occurring in the Eastern part of the state. Constituents of yours are not consistently getting local news that reports on what their federal representation is achieving for them in D.C. and they feel disenfranchised because of it. The Berkshires are a part of Massachusetts and should not be deprived of state news simply because of their location.
Thank you for your attention to this matter and for anything you can do to ensure that this situation is resolved in a timely manner.
Representative Smitty Pignatelli, Fourth Berkshire District
Senator Benjamin B. Downing, Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin and Hampden
Representative Gailanne Cariddi, First Berkshire District
Representative Paul Mark, Second Berkshire District
Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, Third Berkshire District
cc: Governor Deval Patrick