TWC Takes Heat Over Drop of News Net NECN - Multichannel

TWC Takes Heat Over Drop of News Net NECN

ISSUE MAY SURFACE IN STELA REAUTHORIZATION
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WASHINGTON — Time Warner Cable is getting pushback from some Massachusetts politicians — local and federal — for its plan to drop New England Cable News at the end of the month.

But the issue is bigger than just NECN, as one state legislator told Multichannel News he will continue to push the Massachusetts congressional delegation to act.

Though Time Warner Cable said the plan to drop the regional news network on Dec. 31 is about economics and affects relatively few subscribers, it’s a flashpoint for locations like Berkshire County that feel they are losing a vital source of local news and information.

DRAFTING SENATORS

Berkshire County, Mass., politicians see access to NECN as access to must-have news and information, and took their concerns to Massachusetts’s U.S. senators, Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

Due to the way that the TV designated market areas (DMAs) are structured, some Berkshire County residents receive local TV stations from Albany, N.Y. Thus, in losing NECN, many TV viewers would also lose their sole source of in-state TV news from Boston or Springfield, lawmakers have argued.

Markey and Warren obliged by sending their own letter to TWC asking it not to drop NECN.

That outcome seems unlikely.

“We’re certainly happy to keep an open line of communication, but we have no plans to revisit the decision at this time,” TWC spokesman Rich Ruggiero said.

“We’ve invested millions of dollars in our carriage of NECN, and they simply haven’t delivered the value,” TWC spokesperson Maureen Huff said of the regional network, carried on the company’s New England systems.

TWC carries NECN in the Portland and Bangor areas in Maine, in Pittsfield/North Adams in Western Massachusetts and some systems in central New Hampshire.

While they were at it, the county’s legislative delegation to the Statehouse also asked Markey and Warren to push the Federal Communications Commission to redraw the DMA so that the county is in the Boston TV market, not Albany.

“This has continuously been a contentious issue for Berkshire County, and it is a time for a concerted political effort to address this issue,” they wrote. “We may find allies in other counties across the country who also feel that they are stuck in the wrong DMA.”

Those allies might well surface over the next several months as Congress begins its reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act.

Legislators, pushed by sports fans without access to their favorite teams games, might call for redrawing DMAs containing such so-called “orphan counties,” or for allowing cable operators to import stations from adjacent states.

In the meantime, Time Warner Cable still plans to drop NECN, which is owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal.

One signatory to the letter, state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, emphasized that the decision to drop NECN is only part of the local concern.

LOCAL NEWS WANTED

“In-state cable companies are not obligated to even carry any Boston channels, but our argument is that Berkshire county is in Massachusetts and we want Massachusetts news and [public-service announcements] and there should be some exceptions to the FCC rules,” Pignatelli said. “The only way to get that discussion started is through our federal delegation, so that is what we are trying to do.”

Pignatelli was pleased, but not effusively so, about the Markey/ Warren letter.

“It’s great to write a letter, but I really want them to make phone calls,” he said. “A U.S. senator, in particular Senator Markey, who wrote the rules back in 1996, would have a better opportunity to get into the CEO of Time Warner than Smitty Pignatelli, a state rep from the fourth Berkshire district. I thank them for the letter, but I want them to really step up.”

A source familiar with Markey’s thinking said the goal was to first concentrate on getting TWC to reverse course on NECN before taking any next steps. The source did not elaborate on what those steps would be.

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