South County cable customers air concerns over Time Warner/Comcast merger
LENOX -- A blacked-out Boston television station, subscriber fees and honoring local cable license agreements are among the local concerns about Comcast's planned merger with Time Warner Cable.
The Five-Town Cable Advisory Committee representing Time Warner customers in Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Great Barrington and Sheffield spent 30 minutes on Tuesday grilling Comcast officials about the impact of its proposed $45.2 billion buyout of the rival cable provider.
The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the pending deal that would absorb 7.5 million Time Warner subscribers into Comcast, including all hooked up in Berkshire County.
Comcast announced its intentions in February and unveiled details of the deal six weeks ago. The union of the nation's two biggest cable companies would create a media giant that would control just under 30 percent of the country's cable television market, according to several reports. No timetable has been set for an FCC ruling on the proposal.
If the FCC approves the corporate marriage -- no timetable has been set -- committee member Linda Miller wants Comcast to work on switching Berkshire County from the Albany, N.Y., television market to the Western Massachusetts coverage area.
Miller is annoyed by the fact Boston's WCVB Channel 5 is often blacked out, per FCC regulations, in favor of another ABC network affiliate, WTEN in Albany. Berkshire Time Warner customers feel they are being cheated out of programming geared toward Massachusetts viewers.
"We are stuck with programming from Albany," she said. "We're game for a battle with the FCC."
Daniel Glanville, Comcast's vice president of government affairs and regulation in Western New England, pointed out his company deals with blackout issues in other communities.
"We're sensitive to your concerns," he said. "I can say, ‘We own NECN, but that may not be enough of an answer.' "
In December, public and lawmaker pressure forced Time Warner - its regional office in Albany -- to reconsider yanking New England Cable News network from its Berkshire lineup and elsewhere in New England.
Comcast officials vowed subscriber fees for Internet, telephone and cable services wouldn't increase as a result of the merger.
Glanville also promised the telecommunications giant based in Philadelphia would honor Time Warner's license agreements it has with all its cities and towns across the country.
"We'll step into their shoes and honor contractual obligations of Time Warner," he said.
For Pittsfield and other communities currently negotiating new licenses, Glanville noted Comcast would take over where Time Warner leaves off if talks aren't completed before the merger is finalized.
The five South County towns recently signed off on a new 10-year deal with Time Warner. David Parker, the committee representative from Lee, asked if Comcast reviewed the agreement to see if any items negotiated wouldn't sit well with the company.
Comcast officials replied they hadn't but would address any issue after the merger.
"It bothers me that no one can stand up and say they read the contract," Parker said.
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