Sen. Markey talks new bill aimed to push Charter to return Mass. affiliates to Berkshire TVs

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PITTSFIELD — Sen. Ed Markey said he will be pushing forward this week with legislation that would bring back Massachusetts news stations and other programming to Berkshire residents.

Markey, D-Mass, filed a bill on May 23 that, if successful, would reinstate NBC affiliate WWLP, Channel 22, and ABC affiliate WCVB, Channel 5, to Spectrum Cable subscribers living in the Berkshires.

"It's pushing Charter toward negotiations with broadcasters so the people in the Berkshires can have access to the local news, weather and sports on Massachusetts TV stations, in addition to the Albany stations," Markey said during an Eagle editorial board meeting Friday.

Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum, removed WWLP, of Springfield, and WCVB, of Boston, from its Berkshire lineup more than a year ago, leaving many subscribers and public officials in the region frustrated.

Last June, Markey had proposed legislation that would shift the Berkshires from the Albany, N.Y.-designated market area to the Springfield market. After hearing pushback from some who didn't want to lose their Springfield programming, Markey introduced a new bill, S. 1655, that would leave the county's market-designation the same, but bring back the Massachusetts networks.

"Instead, the Berkshires would be in the Albany market, but simultaneously have access to the Massachusetts stations for the purpose of the local news, weather, sports and local programming," he said. "Now, the syndicated programming would all be blocked out."

Markey said he would be raising the issue at a meeting of U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on Wednesday.

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Markey's intent is to team up with other senators from states who have similar issues in border towns and build some "legislative momentum."

The new legislation comes months after Markey had spoken with CEOs of both Nexstar Media Group, owner of Channel 22, and Charter Communications in the fall, his office says.

While the Nexstar executive agreed to provide the Springfield station's newscasts to Charter at no cost, that offer was rejected by Charter.

The news programming would have been slotted into a channel on the Spectrum system but would have been "dark" between newscasts, Markey's office had said.

According to Markey's office, Charter dismissed the offer on the grounds that viewers would have been confused.

A Charter spokesman said, at the time, that the company was willing to restore WWLP as a full-time presence, as opposed to just news programming, but it would require a rollback in financial terms.

"We want to bring them back to the table to reach a deal," Markey said. "This bill requires good-faith negotiations between the company and the broadcasters."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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