Editor’s Note: The meeting of the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee scheduled for Tuesday, March 13, has been rescheduled for March 20, due to the forecast of another Nor’easter. Chair Linda Miller (the author of the letter below) writes: “The Five Town Cable Advisory Committee meeting scheduled for tomorrow, March 13th, has been postponed to Tuesday, March 20th, 2018, 6:30 p.m. at the Sheffield Town Hall, due to the forecast of yet another snowstorm. Our agenda will remain the same.”
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To the Editor:
Charter/Spectrum Cable is out of control in Berkshire County. It is a near monopoly, and therein lies the problem, or much of it. Though, cable franchise agreements in Massachusetts are non-exclusive by statute, here in the Berkshires we have a problem; our towns and cities individually do not have sufficient population to attract competition. Many Berkshire towns currently have cable TV available through Charter/Spectrum the holder of franchise agreements with towns that have the lion’s share of subscribers. We must make the best of the situation by exercising the control that is available and not sit back and be steamrolled.
Start with this. They have separated subscribers into two categories: Spectrum subscribers and “Legacy Time Warner” subscribers. Within these categories they have multiple service tiers based on the channels and equipment each subscriber chooses. The pricing for services and equipment within the categories is not the same between the categories. The same converter box could be as little as free or as much as $10.75 per box, per month. Many subscribers did not pay for converters because, before Charter/Spectrum began encrypting signals, there was no need. The encryption is an excuse to increase their profits at the expense of subscribers, some of whom will be paying not just a few dollars more per month but multiples.
Though our PEG (Public, Educational, Government) Access channels, are required by our Franchise agreement to be located on channels in the “Basic Tier” they have been moved to channels that are well beyond that, almost 1,300 channels beyond that, to 1301, 1302, 1303. There are the channels that bring you what’s going on in our schools, what our town Select boards and City Councils are doing and local public interest activities are going on. And though some of our access channels are now produced in HD, they are being displayed in SD, stepped down in quality. Charter/Spectrum has refused to upgrade the transmission to the new standard even though technical advancements in the industry are supposed to be incorporated into our system (Spectrum advertises its “advanced systems”) per our agreements.
Charter/Spectrum has not been honest with subscribers. They say their system is “fiber rich.” What does that mean? Their system is not all fiber and their Internet speeds are not all 100Mbps as advertised. Their upload speed is a small fraction of that. They referred to conversion to encrypted signals by saying they were going “all digital”, but the FCC mandated the conversion to digital years ago, and digital TVs have had cable connected simply by screwing it into any digital set – no box required. With the encryption, subscribers must have proprietary converter boxes to view their digital TVs at additional costs for boxes.
The list of issues goes on.
Our Berkshire towns do not individually have the resources to fight the battles that need to be fought to protect the interests of the town and subscribers from the leviathan, Charter/Spectrum, that has emerged in our midst. We need help and support:
- All Berkshire towns and cities need to adopt a set of uniform, basic terms and conditions to be incorporated in Cable Franchise License agreements with Spectrum/Charter and,
- All Berkshire towns and cities need to band together and form a single cable oversight body and The State of Massachusetts needs to put some tooth into the enforcement of Cable Franchise Licenses and some muscle in regulation of all cable service providers.
Our elected representatives have expressed their support. The Attorney General’s office has begun taking steps in this direction. There is now a website where Massachusetts cable subscribers can report problems that they have not been able resolve: www.mass.gov\get-consumer-support. They will be evaluating how the oversight of cable operators throughout the state can be improved.
These and other cable oversight issues will be discussed at the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee quarterly meeting, Tuesday, March 13th, 6:30 p.m., at the Sheffield Town Hall. This meeting is open to the public. The Five Town Cable Advisory Committee is made up of representatives from Great Barrington, Lee, Lenox, Sheffield and Stockbridge. Representatives from Charter/Spectrum will also be in attendance.
Linda Z. Miller
The writer is chairman for the Five Town Cable Advisory Committee.