Spectrum launching channel serving Berkshire County, hires Pittsfield-based reporter

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Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum, has launched a statewide channel serving its cable subscribers in Berkshire County and central and eastern Massachusetts. The move comes in response to public demand for more Massachusetts TV news coverage.

Spectrum News Massachusetts, a 24-hour service on Channel 1, will be based in Worcester, said Dan Ronayne, senior vice president of Spectrum News, Northeast.

The move reflects "a growing desire for hyperlocal news in the areas we serve," he said in a phone interview from New York City.

Charter-Spectrum, which absorbed Time Warner Cable in 2016 and serves 28 million customers in 41 states, continues to offer Spectrum's regional news and weather service from Albany, N.Y., on Channel 9, as well as its New York City news network on Channel 213. The company is believed to have at least 55,000 customers in Berkshire County.

Spectrum News is adding a Pittsfield-based multimedia journalist, Matt Ristaino, to its staff of anchors and reporters in Worcester. Ristaino has been with the Holliston Reporter, a citizen journalism website in his hometown.

The new Massachusetts Channel 1 televises continuous one-hour newscasts starting at 6 a.m., noon and 6 p.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends, with refreshed content throughout the day. Each hourly newscast features local forecasts every 10 minutes during “Weather on the 1s.” Live updates are aired as needed for breaking news.

Although Spectrum does not have a reporter based in Boston to cover state government, "it's an absolute possibility," Ronayne said. He said that Spectrum, which offers regional news in 12 states, operates a bureau in Washington, D.C., to report on Massachusetts politics at the national level.

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Linda Z. Miller, longtime chairwoman of the Five-Town Cable Advisory Committee, representing Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge, said that with Spectrum picking up a number of wired towns "as part of the Broadband Initiative to be their internet and cable provider, some pressure might have been put on Charter to do something about coverage of state government and news west of I-495 that we have been pushing for over the years."

Barrett unimpressed

Despite the new service, a prominent local lawmaker and critic of Charter/Spectrum is unimpressed.

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The No. 1 complaint from area cable subscribers remains in unsolved, state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams, told The Eagle.

Customer demand to restore WCVB, Channel 5, Boston and WWLP, Channel 22, Springfield for state and government news coverage has fallen on deaf ears at Charter, he said, despite his appeals to state Attorney General Maura Healey and pressure from U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Markey filed legislation in Washington last May to require the return of those channels for Berkshire cable viewers.

In addition, the entire Berkshire delegation of state lawmakers circulated a petition seeking the restoration of the two channels.

Boston channel WCVB was removed in mid-2018, a year after the Springfield channel was eliminated. However, northern Berkshire subscribers continue to receive WBZ-TV, Channel 4, from Boston under a separate contract, Barrett said.

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"They're playing a game, it's more of their deceptive practices," he said. "They're now able to say they have a Massachusetts channel. Until the attorney general does something about their practices, they're going to continue to get away with it, going about their merry way because nothing's going to be done."

Barrett saluted Markey's efforts but predicted "it will take a couple of years, if he's lucky. But at least he's trying."

Barrett also alleged that Charter/Spectrum doesn't approach its advertised basic broadband speed of 100 megabits per second, especially in North County. "It's hurting our economy," he said. "The No. 1 driver of our economy is broadband."

But tech experts have explained that after broadband service reaches a home or business, the speed of data can be limited by outdated or low-quality equipment such as modems and routers owned by customers.

In October, an Eagle survey seeking internet speed results from readers yielded nearly 100 responses showing a wide range of download rates.

"Anytime our customers have a question about the speed or performance of their internet service, they should contact us so we can work with them to resolve the issue," said Andrew Russell, regional spokesman for Charter Communications. "A lot of factors can affect an individual customer's internet performance — the type of devices, wiring inside the home [and] Wi-Fi signal strength."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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