North Adams mayor: Charter response to contract dispute is 'corporate chutzpah'
In a letter dated Oct. 9, Charter Communications said it has carried out contractually obligated infrastructure improvements on behalf of Northern Berkshire Community Television Corporation, and offered a reimbursement for relocating local public access channels without proper notice.
"Charter values its relationship with the city and we remain hopeful that we can resolve the issues set forth above," Melinda Kinney, a senior director of government affairs for Charter, said in the letter.
The letter from Charter, which is the parent company of Spectrum, came in response to a September letter from Mayor Thomas Bernard that outlined several alleged breaches of contract and requested additional information about the company's operations locally. The lengthy airing of grievances called for payment to the city totaling more than $500,000.
"This whole letter is evidence of corporate chutzpah. They're just going to boldface their way through this," Bernard told The Eagle on Tuesday.
Bernard's initial letter, dated Sept. 5, centered on two main complaints.
The city alleges that under the contract, Charter should have installed new fiber lines to the NBCTC headquarters by March 16, 2016. Bernard demanded payment for each uninstalled line totaling $277,049.43 on the day the letter was written — with increases every day the lines remained uninstalled.
In response, Charter offered reimbursement to the city for the delays in installing new fiber lines to Northern Berkshire Community Television Corporation headquarters in the amount of $20,956.54, but stopped short of agreeing to — or even addressing — the more than $500,000 payment requested by Mayor Thomas Bernard.
"The fact that they don't even speak to it tells me what they think of it," Bernard said.
Although he noted that the formula the city used to arrive at the payment request — which was based on the company's stock valuation — was "arbitrary," he was adamant that there be some value assigned to the 918 days the fiber lines were uninstalled.
"It's as though they absolve themselves of all responsibility for failing to do that for more than two years," Bernard said.
Charter stated that it activated the fiber line to Drury High School on Sept. 20, 2018, and to City Hall on Sept. 21, 2018.
"Charter confirms that is has installed the fiber links required and they are operational," the letter states.
Charter also offered $2,000 in reimbursement to the city for its relocation earlier this year of the Northern Berkshire Community Television Corp. channels from the teens to the 1300s — without 30 days notice as required under the contract.
The city inked its 10-year contract with Time Warner Cable, which has since been purchased by Charter Communications, in 2014.
The relationship between the city and its cable provider has been tumultuous in 2018. In February, the company transitioned to an encrypted, all-digital signal that required some subscribers to rent a converter box in order to continue watching television. The move sparked outcry and prompted a public meeting at the American Legion in May where aggrieved subscribers and public officials blasted company executives about the quality of Spectrum's service.
In its letter, the company also addressed complaints about the picture quality of its public, education and government access channels, stating that "a pixelation problem is generally confined to a specific location and needs to be diagnosed and remedied in the affected customer's home or business."
"It's significant enough and they're staffing level is such that they'd have to go door to door to now until Halley's comet comes around to sufficiently address the issues and complaints that are there," Bernard said.
The company also provided information related to its contract with the city upon Bernard's request, including a record of complaints made by subscribers between Aug. 31, 2016, and Aug. 31, 2018.
Charter disputed that it missed a deadline to respond to the city's initial complaint.
In its letter, the company asserts that the actual deadline was Oct. 9 — the day it sent the letter.
The dispute has not resulted in legal action to this point, but Bernard has not ruled it out.
Adam Shanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.
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