Our Opinion: Spectrum, FCC aren't doing right by county

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Obviously, Founding Father Thomas Jefferson lacked any frame of reference to even fantasize about what life might be like in the television age. Words he wrote at the dawn of our nation's existence, however, are just as relevant in Berkshire County today as they were when news was disseminated via horse and rider: "I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness."

Moving the clock forward a couple of centuries, Berkshirites find themselves in what amounts to a third-world situation when it comes to accessing information critical to their lives. Thanks to a decision last March by cable provider Charter Spectrum to drop Springfield's WWLP-Channel 22 from its lineup, Berkshire County viewers have been deprived of a Western Massachusetts-based TV station to deliver information about regional news and government. Charter Spectrum has not responded to the concerns of residents and their appointed and elected officials, and the traditional pro-industry bias and apathy of the Federal Communications Commission compounds the problem. Berkshire County has been defined as being in Albany, N.Y.'s broadcast area since the dawn of television, offering the county news of government corruption in Albany, fires in Schenectady and drug busts in Troy that are of little relevance to local residents.

This imbalance places the Berkshires at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to the horse-trading and jockeying for position that occurs not only on Beacon Hill, but also at the federal level. WWLP maintains a full-time bureau in Boston whose coverage is focused on topics relevant to Western Massachusetts and the Berkshires. Berkshire County risks sitting on the bench while other governmental entities with better-connected constituencies in terms of electronic media operate at the center of the action.

Today state Senator Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, is meeting with Charter Spectrum representatives to explore ways the corporation might be persuaded to include Berkshire County in the rest of Massachusetts. To add heft to his argument, Senator Hinds has enlisted Senate President Stanley Rosenberg to join in the discussion. Senator Rosenberg, who represents Amherst, presumably knows how important it is for Western Massachusetts to maintain strong electronic media links to Boston.

Monday, 1st District Congressman Richard Neal, along with U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, sent a letter to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai urging the agency to comprehensively examine Berkshire County's situation and make changes to anachronistic laws shifting the county to New York State for television purposes. In addition, local cable licensing boards should pressure Charter Spectrum to do right by residents paying hefty cable television bills. Finally, it is in the best interests of disgruntled and disenfranchised viewers for them to make their sentiments known — loudly and often.


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