Spectrum plans to yank Channel 5 WCVB Boston station from Berkshires cable customers

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Spectrum is yanking another Massachusetts television station from Berkshire viewers, leaving just one in each section of the county.

Effective on or after June 4, local Spectrum subscribers from the Pittsfield area south will no longer receive WCVB-TV, Channel 5, Boston's ABC network affiliate. That's according to a letter the parent company Charter Communications sent May 1 to the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications & Cable.

The removal leaves WBZ-TV, Boston in North Berkshire and WSHM-TV, Springfield in Central and South Berkshire; both CBS affiliates on channel 3 of their respective cable lineups.

The move to black out WCVB comes a year after Charter pulled the plug on WWLP, Channel 22 in Springfield. In that case, Charter said it acted to cut duplication with another NBC affiliate it carries from Albany, N.Y. Under Federal Communications Commission rules, Charter can eliminate the Springfield station because the FCC lists Pittsfield and the Berkshires as part of the Albany media market.

However, Charter's letter to the state gave no reason for removing WCVB. In response to an email question from The Eagle, Charter said WTEN Channel 10 in Albany is "the correct in-market affiliate for the Berkshire market."

Charter also didn't say if the two remaining Massachusetts stations are in jeopardy of being removed.

Local municipal cable officials and Berkshire state lawmakers are upset over what they consider Spectrum's latest move to short-change county viewers.

"My polite reaction to this is that it stinks," said Linda Miller, chairwoman of the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee representing Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge.

Charter also serves Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg, Dalton, Lanesborough, North Adams, Pittsfield, Richmond, Hinsdale, Williamstown and West Stockbridge.

Over the years, cable providers Adelphia and Time Warner have threatened to eliminate the Massachusetts stations from the lineup, only to back down under pressure from local, state and federal lawmakers.

State Reps. John Barrett III and William "Smitty" Pignatelli are urging the state's two U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, to put pressure on the company.

"People should call all of their offices and leave a short message asking them to contact Spectrum officials to stop the removal of WCVB from the Berkshire County cable channels," Barrett posted on his Facebook page this week. "Call them after 5:30 and all weekend long and leave a voicemail."

Pignatelli wants Massachusetts leading the charge to rewrite the FCC regulations regarding duplicate network stations in the same market.

"It's time for federal [legislative] delegation to step up to the plate and fix the rules written 20 years ago," he told The Eagle.

It's the second recent dust-up with the cable company, which was purchased from Time Warner last year. Spectrum subscribers and local officials were left fuming earlier this year when the company switched to an encrypted, all-digital signal, which requires the use of converter boxes on any TV set.

Spectrum said the upgraded signal is necessary to protect theft of programming. Many subscribers during public meetings in Great Barrington and Pittsfield were miffed at paying monthly fees for the boxes, up to $11.75 per month, per box after an interim period in which the fees are waived. Many complained they were difficult to install or faulty requiring a replacement.

Barrett expects the state's top consumer advocate, Attorney General Maura Healey, to get involved in the company's dealings in Western Massachusetts.

"I have had a second conversation withe AG's office and they are going to revisit these issues," he said. "The lack of competition has Spectrum running rough-shod over us."

Meanwhile, the state Department of Telecommunications & Cable later this month will meet with government leaders of North Adams, Pittsfield and the towns served by Spectrum. Agency representatives expect to discuss the cable firm's overall service in the Berkshires, according to a letter sent to the municipalities.

Pignatelli noted there are two gatherings scheduled for North Adams and Lenox on May 22, but they aren't open to the public.

The North Adams City Council will hold a public hearing on May 21, 6-8 p.m., at North Adams American Legion Post 125. The purpose of the hearing is to review Spectrum's cable license with the city, review technological advances in the cable field and to hear comments, suggestions and complaints from the public.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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