Congressional candidates' views won't reach Berkshires cable TV viewers

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Though two candidates for Congress will debate in a television studio Wednesday, their live comments will not reach cable viewers in Berkshire County.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and his Democratic challenger, Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, are scheduled to face off at 12:30 p.m. in the studios of WWLP, Channel 22 in Chicopee.

The half-hour encounter will be the first of two planned debates by candidates in the First Congressional District ahead of the Sept. 4 primary.

People with a strong internet connection will be able to follow the proceedings online. Anthony Fay, assignment manager for the station, said the debate will be streamed live at www.wwlp.com/watch-live.

Last year, Spectrum dropped the Springfield NBC affiliate from its cable lineup in the Berkshires, saying the programming duplicated content provided by another NBC station it must carry under FCC rules.

In early June it also removed the Boston ABC affiliate, WCVB, Channel 5, from its Berkshire County service.

According to the federal agency, Berkshire County is part of the Albany, N.Y., media market.

Efforts by lawmakers to restore WWLP programming to Berkshires customers have come up short, so far. The access problem also affects subscribers to satellite services like DirecTV and Dish Network.

The WWLP debate will be moderated by broadcaster Rich Tettemer.

On Aug. 30, WGBY-TV in Springfield will host a second debate with the two candidates. The public broadcasting channel is available in the Berkshires. The WGBY forum, also to run 30 minutes, begins at 8 p.m. and will be moderated by Carrie Saldo.

It will be available online after the initial broadcast.

Members of the state's Congressional delegation continue to seek ways to restore home-grown TV service to the Berkshires.

One current effort focuses on getting the FCC to realign the county as part of the Springfield media market.

Separately, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said in June he plans to file legislation that would force the agency's hand and achieve the same result.

A few out-of-market stations are still hanging on. WBZ-TV, Boston, is available in northern Berkshire County and WSHM-TV, Springfield, is available to subscribers in central and southern parts of the county. Both carry CBS programming.

This summer, local lawmakers created an online petition urging Spectrum to restore the missing channels.

The petition can be found at thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/967/805/532/.

It notes the recent loss of WCVB-TV. "This is the second time the cable company has eliminated access to broadcasting that allows them to keep up with Massachusetts news, sports, culture, and government," the petition says.

"While geographically we are as far removed as possible from the state capital of Boston, Spectrum's cancellation of WCVB from Berkshire airwaves will further distance western Massachusetts residents by removing a major source of broadcast news, sports and information," it says. "We stand united in demanding that Charter Spectrum honor the commitments they made to their Berkshire consumers and turn WCVB and WWLP back on."

Subscriber's lament

Meantime, one Spectrum subscriber in Dalton told The Eagle he and his partner dropped the company's cable TV service in part because of the lost channels.

"We definitely made that a focal point of why we're moving our service," said Matt Mellace.

Mellace said that when a year of promotional pricing ran out, he and his partner canceled Spectrum cable TV and phone service and held on only to a data plan that costs them $69.95 a month, down from $126 combined for the other services.

He said Spectrum offered to sell them the missing Springfield television channels for an extra $12 a month.

"That's 12 more dollars that we would have to pay that we didn't have to pay before," Mellace said. "In a day and age when you basically have to stretch every dollar, you have to take advantage of those deals."

Instead of cable TV service, Mellace said his household now streams programming from the DirecTV Now service for less money. That option does not, however, include access to the Springfield stations.

Mellace said he was also unhappy that Spectrum tried to walk him through a technical adjustment on one of the company's devices. "I'm not the one who should be doing the work," he said.

"Cable TV shopping has now become like car shopping. You have to negotiate for every dollar. And if you don't ask for something, you're not going to get it," Mellace said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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