Our Opinion: Loss of WCVB-TV could be a difference-maker

Few hot-button issues rile constituents like a cable TV provider messing with their signal. Not surprisingly, Spectrum's decision last year to eliminate first WWLP out of Springfield, and more recently WCVB out of Boston — thus depriving Berkshirites of news and sports from their own state — has attracted a surfeit of interest from politicians eager to ride in and save the day.

Berkshire County has long been placed within the Albany Designated Market Area (DMA), an anachronism that dates to an era when rabbit ears or a rooftop antenna were the only way to receive a signal. The FCC requires cable carriers to include all local broadcast stations in the lineup offered to its customers within that DMA ("must carry"), which provides Spectrum an excuse for dropping supposedly duplicative Boston and Springfield stations, to whom it must pay extra money for their signal. As a result, Patriots and Red Sox fans must content themselves with Giants and Yankees games, as well as become immersed in the vagaries of New York State politics, which, while entertaining, lack relevance to Berkshires viewers.

Heading the political cavalry charge is U.S. Senator Ed Markey, a telecommunications go-to guy since his days in the House. He proclaimed that he will seek an act of Congress to have the Berkshires moved from the Albany DMA to Springfield, thereby ensuring that the same federal regulations behind which Spectrum has been hiding will force it to carry all the stations enjoyed by Springfield viewers (Eagle, June 8). The proposal would, in effect, solidify the Berkshires' cultural and political ties with fellow Bay Staters.

Lenox-based state Representative William "Smitty" Pignatelli, however, believes the senator's solution fails to address certain subtleties peculiar to the Berkshires. His concept, more complicated and less certain in outcome, reflects his contention that adoption of Senator Markley's proposed legislation would create a host of unintended consequences.

For example, while the Berkshires are, indeed, part of Massachusetts, many residents are New York sports fans. Additionally, being able to get weather information and advertising messages from the local market area suggest a need to keep the county connected to Albany.

Mr. Pignatelli, who admits that an act of Congress might still be necessary to implement his own proposal, suggests that the Berkshires remain in the Albany DMA, but that Massachusetts-based stations that used to be carried by Spectrum be "grandfathered in." Alternatively, he would like to see the FCC drop the "must carry" requirement to provide local broadcast signals, which would then create competition between, say, Springfield and Albany affiliates of the same network to be the one chosen by Spectrum. He even envisions the possibility that Spectrum might decide to carry both New York and Massachusetts-based broadcast signals.

Spectrum could indeed choose to broadcast both Albany and Massachusetts television stations. That is what it was doing up to the point it chose to dump stations from Springfield and Boston. Albany TV stations affiliated with the four major networks may not wish to lose Berkshire viewers and could end up lobbying Spectrum to keep them. With competition from Massachusetts-based television stations they may even want to enhance their Berkshire coverage.

The Berkshires belong in the Springfield DMA for the simple reason that the county is in Massachusetts, not New York. Residents need to be cognizant of their state's politics and current events so that they can make informed decisions as citizens of the Commonwealth. Even now, without cable access to WWLP in Springfield, the county represents a gaping black hole to the seat of U.S. Congressman Richard Neal's district. The county needs TV links to its state capitol — which is Boston, not Albany — particularly in an election year. And when it comes to sports coverage, the fact that the numerous Berkshire fans who are part of Red Sox nation could not see the Saturday, June 2 game with the Astros because the New York Mets game was on Fox instead testifies to the folly of our being in the New York market.

Designated market areas present a false choice between markets when the magic of cable provide access to many markets. Much has changed in the electronic communications landscape since the era of "Howdy Doody" but market areas haven't. The Berkshires should be in the Massachusetts market without having to sever all its Albany links. Rather than pit one elected official's recommendation against another we would prefer an acknowledgment by the FCC that changes be made that reflect the realities of 2018, not those of 1958.


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