Loss of Channel 22 topic of talk with Charter Spectrum

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PITTSFIELD — A Springfield TV station's content is gone from Charter Spectrum line-ups in the Berkshires.

But not forgotten.

On Tuesday, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg and state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, will meet with Charter Spectrum representatives about the company's decision this spring to drop WWLP-Channel 22 from three cable systems that serve 16 Berkshire County communities.

As they do, the long-time leader of the Springfield station says he's eager to see a nearly 50-year Western Massachusetts connection a restored.

Charter said it acted to cut duplication with another NBC affiliate it carries from Albany, N.Y. Under Federal Communications Commission rules, Charter can eliminate the Springfield station because Pittsfield is listed by the agency as part of the Albany media market.

But lawmakers lodged protests, arguing that residents of the Berkshires need access to their own state's news to be informed citizens.

"It's not conducive to being part of the commonwealth," Hinds said of the company's action.

Hinds enlisted Rosenberg's help in setting up Tuesday's meeting with Charter.

When asked whether Charter is willing to reconsider its move to cut Channel 22, a company spokesman said only that the gathering is "an informational meeting to discuss programming."

While the company cannot be compelled by communications laws to provide Channel 22 content, Hinds said he will make the case that it is in democracy's best interest to do so.

"We can appeal to them on democratic and civic engagement grounds," he said.

William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, said that because of the way the FCC defines a "designated market area," the issue must be addressed by the state's delegation in Washington, D.C.

He said U.S. Sen Ed Markey, D-Mass., needs to take a lead role in part because he helped write FCC rules, while a member of the House of Representatives.

"He's the one guy in the delegation who has that breadth," Pignatelli said of Markey.

The Eagle asked Markey's office for comment on the senator's involvement with the issue, but did not receive a reply Friday.

If the FCC's map of market areas cannot be changed, Pignatelli suggested, both Charter and managers of Channel 22 might be persuaded to work out a solution.

"They should be forced to sit at a table and hammer out a deal. To really get serious about a negotiation," Pignatelli said. "It comes down to money."

While Charter paid WWLP-Channel 22 to carry its signal, even the station's general manager doesn't know how much.

William M. Pepin, the station's vice president and general manager, said those negotiations take place at the corporate level, between Charter and Nexstar Broadcasting, which owns the Springfield station and 170 others in the U.S.

"That's a very closely guarded secret," Pepin said in an interview Friday.

But he stressed that the change was a unilateral decision by Charter.

When Channel 22 was removed this spring, Pepin said he was flooded with phone calls from unhappy viewers. He learned of the plan to remove the station from Charter networks from a viewer who read about it in The Eagle.

The calls picked up again when viewers couldn't find Patriots coverage, then dropped off.

"Some people figure it's a lost cause," Pepin said. "It's totally up to Charter."

Communities that lost Channel 22 include: Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Great Barrington, Hinsdale, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, North Adams, Richmond, Sheffield, Stockbridge, West Stockbridge and Williamstown.

Lost content

Pepin said he was not aware of Tuesday's meeting between the senators and Charter, but supports getting his station's content back on Berkshires screens.

"I think the people in Berkshire County are disenfranchised because they've lost Massachusetts," he said.

The Springfield station operates a full-time bureau in the Statehouse that features reports from a rotating cast of reporters. Stories filed from Boston regularly include coverage of lawmakers from the Berkshires, Pepin said.

The station also uses a Nexstar team based in Washington, D.C., to report on members of the Massachusetts delegation in Congress.

"They do care about what happens in the Statehouse," Pepin said of viewers in general. "What happens in the Statehouse affects everybody at this end of the state. Coverage holds them accountable."

While the Springfield station lost an undisclosed amount of revenue from Charter for what's known as a "carriage" fee, it doesn't stand to suffer on advertising income because its rates are based on its own designated market area, which doesn't include Berkshire County.

But Pepin said he regrets the new lost connection with Berkshires viewers, whose interests he believes are more connected to the Pioneer Valley than to Albany.

The station's four meteorologists have long worked under standing orders to include the Berkshires in their weather reports.

Hinds said he and others have been speaking with members of the D.C. delegation. The FCC's analog-era rules, and market maps, are outmoded in the digital age, he said.

"We have example after example of how outdated this is," Hinds said.

But both Pepin and Hinds said that unless the FCC's rules are changed, Charter cannot be made to carry Channel 22's content.

"They're not doing anything wrong," Hinds said.

Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.


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