Satellite customers feel the broadcast disconnect, too

Cable TV customers not only ones missing Western Mass broadcast news

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PITTSFIELD — Close, but no cigar — or Springfield news.

Diane Duquette lives in the Berkshire County town of Washington, one municipality away from Hampshire County, where people can tune in to New England Patriots games on television.

But when Duquette fires up her TV, using a satellite provider like DirecTV or Dish Network, she might as well be living in New York State.

That's because customers of satellite TV companies in the Berkshires, like those who buy programming over the Charter Spectrum cable service, are lumped into the Albany, N.Y., media market by the Federal Communications Commission.

"I'm less than a mile from the (county) line and I can't get Springfield stations," said Duquette.

That bothers her in football season, but also when elections near.

"We can tell you who's running for election in New York State," she said. "We're in the dark."

As state and federal lawmakers pursue a solution to the "designated market area" issue with the FCC, Duquette is among thousands in the Berkshires hoping for results.

State Sen. Adam G. Hinds, D-Pittsfield, says he is aware of the problem. He and others are pressing for a change in the FCC market area so that Massachusetts residents can obtain broadcast news and information about their own state.

"While our understanding is that satellite companies are governed a bit differently by the FCC, we intend to engage with those companies as well," Hinds said by email in response to questions from The Eagle.

He said people should have access to in-state news coverage and programming. "So they are able to meaningfully engage and understand policy decisions that have direct impact on their lives," he said.

DirecTV is owned by AT&T. Karen Twomey, a spokeswoman, said the company is aware of the issue affecting its satellite TV customers in Western Massachusetts but is not commenting on it yet.

Before he moved to Becket, Don Munger lived in the Hampshire County town of Middlefield, that county's westernmost borough. Moving one town to the south cost him coverage of Massachusetts news on his satellite TV provider, he said.

"I think it's kind of ridiculous," Munger said. "We are part of New England, not New York state."

With that, he echoes the views of thousands of customers of Charter's three systems in Berkshire County. It was their complaints about the FCC market area that spurred action by state lawmakers as well as the delegation in Washington, D.C.

The office of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, is expecting a meeting in early November with Charter Spectrum officials to address the issue, according to William Tranghese, Neal's chief of staff.

On Sept. 18, Neal joined with Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, both D-Mass., to ask FCC Chairman Ajit V. Pai to take a fresh and "comprehensive" look at the issue. In a letter, the lawmakers said the loss of programming deprives customers of Massachusetts news.

They made a special pitch to allow viewers to receive WWLP Channel 22 from Springfield.

"WWLP for decades has been a source of both news and cable programming to Berkshire County," the two-page letter said. "WWLP is also currently the only station in the western Massachusetts media market that has a news bureau based in Berkshire County and conducts daily broadcasts with a reporter on scene."

The next day, Hinds and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, held a similar meeting with Charter officials from New England.

Andrew D. Russell, a spokesman for Charter, described that session in Boston as "positive."

"We understand some of our customers are frustrated by this issue," Russell said last month, "and we appreciated the opportunity for a discussion with the senators about the rules for carriage of in-market and out-of-market broadcasters."

The market restriction affects an estimated 30,000 cable TV customers in the Berkshires — as well as thousands more using satellite connections.

While Duquette misses seeing Patriots games, Munger says the yardage he wants is everyday information about the commonwealth.

"It's knowing what's going on in my state," he said.

AT&T's acquisition of DirecTV for $48.5 billion went through in July 2015 after being approved by the FCC and the Department of Justice.

Previously, the owners of DirecTV and Dish Network discussed a possible merger, but that deal never developed.

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


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