Charter Spectrum plans to drop WWLP-22

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PITTSFIELD Citing overlapping coverage areas, Charter Communications will drop Springfield's NBC affiliate, WWLP-22, next month from three Berkshire cable systems that serve 16 county municipalities.

It will be dropped on the systems that serve Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, North Adams and Williamstown; and Dalton, Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sheffield and Stockbridge on Monday April 17. It will be dropped from the system that serves Hinsdale, Lanesborough and West Stockbridge on Monday, April 24.

In a statement, Charter's Northeast Director of Communications Andrew Russell said WWLP was being dropped because it is an "out of market station with duplicative network programming." It overlaps with WNYT-13, the NBC affiliate in Albany, N.Y. Berkshire County is part of the Albany market's coverage area.

"Customers will continue to have access to their favorite network programming via the in-market station, WNYT, which is available in HD and SD," Russell said.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli. D-Lenox, said Charter's decision to terminate Springfield's NBC affiliate hurts the Berkshires because we "continue to be cut off from the rest of the state.

"We went through this 20 years ago when I was a selectman and we lost Channel 3 in Hartford, and Channel 5 in Boston, which we were able to preserve with blackout times," he said. "Now, we lose Channel 22 which has a full-time reporter at the Statehouse. That was the last connection Berkshire residents had outside the county.

"I think it's all about money," Pignatelli said. "I wish our (federal) legislative delegation would take a hard look at the coverage areas. I don't have a problem being in the Albany market, but once again we're losing our identity in Massachusetts. We're connected to New York all the time."

In a further reference to receiving aid from Massachusetts' federal legislators, Pignatelli cited U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, who he said helped craft the rules for coverage areas for the Federal Communications Commission when he was in Congress.

"Now that he's a senator, he needs to help us out," Pignatelli said.

Charter originally announced in late February that it planned to drop WWLP in the Berkshires by March 28 through a legal notice that was published in the Berkshire Eagle. The company then said the notice had been issued "inadvertently."

In a programming notice sent to the Five Town Cable Committee prior to that organization's meeting on Tuesday, Charter referred to its issuance of the legal notice in February as "an error on our part" adding that "we apologize for any confusion caused by that inadvertent notice." The Five Town Cable Committee includes representatives from Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge.

Pignatelli wasn't upset with the manner in which Charter Communications announced its decision in the Berkshires.

"I think they probably had a deadline," to post the legal notice, he said. "I'll err on the side of caution and give them the benefit of the doubt.

"The negotiations have less to do in my opinion with the out of area designation and more to do with money," he said. "We have one less Massachusetts channel in our lineup but the cable rates are going to go up."

Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.


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