Our Opinion: Pushing Charter will be real chore

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Sen. Edward Markey has filed a bill designed to push Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum Cable, into returning TV stations from Springfield and Boston to their lineups in the Berkshires. That would be a significant achievement, but it will require an extremely hard push that the legislation may not be capable of making.

At an Eagle editorial board meeting last Friday, the Massachusetts Democrat said the bill he filed May 23 is "pushing Charter toward negotiations with broadcasters" so Berkshire viewers can again have WWLP, Channel 22 out of Springfield and WCBV, Channel 5 out of Boston, or at the very least their newscasts, while maintaining access to their television stations out of Albany. The bill is expected to come before the Senate's Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology today. The senator hopes to "build momentum" legislatively by teaming with senators in other states whose border communities have similar issues with cable providers.

Sen. Markey conferred last year with CEOs from Nexstar Media Group, owner of WWLP, and Charter Communications, and Nextar, which clearly has an interest in being available to viewers in nearby Berkshire County, offered access to Channel 22 free of charge to Charter. With nothing to lose, Charter nonetheless rejected a free TV channel. The channel would have been "dark" between newscasts, which Charter feared would confuse viewers. We suspect that Berkshire viewers capable of finding their favorite TV programs among hundreds of Charter channels could figure this out, especially considering that for a time WCBV was dark outside of newscasts to protect fellow ABC affiliate WTEN in Albany. Charter indicated that it would consider restoring WWLP in its entirety but it would require financial adjustments, which could mean a fee to Charter and/or to WNYT, Channel 13 out of Albany, which like WWLP, is an NBC affiliate.

The senator said the bill "requires good-faith negotiations between the company and the broadcasters" but it will be difficult if not impossible to mandate good-faith legislatively. At this point, Charter only appears interested in finding excuses not to restore the two Massachusetts channels.

Sen. Markey acknowledged that his plan was in essence an end-run around a Federal Communications Commission decision that placed Berkshire County in the Albany TV market back when the Berkshires had access to three TV stations. Cable has changed television dramatically since then, but the "Captain Kangaroo"-era market designation has not. The senator told The Eagle that he had received pushback from some who did not want the Berkshires to leave the Albany market but the extent of that pushback isn't clear. While Albany TV is deeply entrenched in the county, its newscasts, featuring Troy drug busts, Schenectady political shenanigans and Shenendehowa-Burnt Hills high school basketball highlights are of no real relevance to the Berkshires.

Next year is an importantelection year, and Berkshire residents would surely prefer to watch news involving Sen. Markey's re-election bid (he has a primary challenger, and if victorious, will face a Republican opponent to be determined in November) than state Senate races in the Albany area. If successful, the senator's bill would provide Berkshire viewers with the best of all possible TV worlds. If unsuccessful, however, attention must again turn to getting a Massachusetts county out of a New York State TV district and into Massachusetts where it belongs.

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