Not a member? Become one today!
         iBerkshires     Berkshire Chamber     MCLA     City Statistics    
Cost, Access to NBCTC High Among Concerns North Berkshire Residents
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
06:15PM / Thursday, April 25, 2024
Print | Email  

Paul Marino speaks at Wednesday's public hearing on Spectrum services and Northern Berkshire Community Television. Four communities are negotiating the 10-year contract with the cable company.

Adams Select Chair Christine Hoyt, NBCTC Executive Director David Fabiano and William Solomon, the attorney representing the four communities, talk after the session. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Public access channels should be supported and made more available to the public — and not be subject to a charge.
More than three dozen community members in-person and online attended the public hearing  Wednesday on public access and service from Spectrum/Charter Communications. The session at City Hall was held for residents in Adams, Cheshire, Clarksburg and North Adams to express their concerns to Spectrum ahead of another 10-year contract that starts in October.
Listening via Zoom but not speaking was Jennifer Young, director state government affairs at Charter.
One speaker after another conveyed how critical local access television is to the community and emphasized the need for affordable and reliable services, particularly for vulnerable populations like the elderly. 
"I don't know if everybody else feels the same way but they have a monopoly," said Clarksburg resident David Emery. "They control everything we do because there's nobody else to go to. You're stuck with with them."
Public access television, like the 30-year-old Northern Berkshire Community Television, is funded by cable television companies through franchise fees, member fees, grants and contributions.
Spectrum is the only cable provider in the region and while residents can shift to satellite providers or streaming, Northern Berkshire Community Television is not available on those alternatives and they may not be easy for some to navigate. For instance, the Spectrum app is available on smart televisions but it doesn't include PEG, the public, educational and governmental channels provided by NBCTC. 
"I'm streaming and do miss my access to community TV," said Nancy Bullett, a former city councilor. "It is a void that is supposed to be filled with public access, but public access is limited unless you can pay for it. So I encourage Spectrum to consider bringing it down to lower channels and also allowing it to be part of our streaming services."
The hearing was not about pricing but the cost of cable couldn't really be separated from discussions about NBCTC and service. 
Cable subscribers have to rent a digital box that is now $12.50 a month to access even basic channels and public access channels. 
"I think $12.50 a month is really a high tax that people are paying for community television," said Adams Selectmen Chair Christine Hoyt, advocating for it to be added to the app. "And it would be great if that could be rolled back."
William Wilson, who has a pastoral show on NBCTC, said he'd heard from the sick and elderly he's ministered to that they can't watch his show because they can't afford the cable. 
Paul Marino, a longtime employee at NBCTC, pointed out the box is needed to unscramble the signal only to Spectrum subscribers. 
"But there is no other cable company. They are the only cable companies serving this area," he said. "So why do we need a box that unscrambles the signal? We don't. They do to make some extra money."
(Not raised at the hearing is Spectrum's plans to shift to a streaming box, which may or may not include PEG channels.)
North Adams Councilor Peter Breen brought his monthly bill along to demonstrate how high its grown.
"My thing is cost and service. The contract should be three years and we should have a minimum of maybe 4 percent increase of any prices," he said. "If you look at these prices over 10 years, that they've gone up 600 percent. That's all I've got to say."
He said a 10-year contract is "antiquated" and that it should be reviewed every three years, with a number of residents agreeing. 
Mayor Jennifer Macksey, speaking as a Spectrum customer, said her bill had also gone up precipitously and after years of complaints about buffering in her office, finally moved her laptop to the living room to get a decent signal.  
Mark Pierson, the city's information technology director, ticked off a number of issues the city's had with service. 
"We have frequent outages that we don't notice, but I see it on the alerts," he said. "Yeah there's something wrong with their service here."
Several women who live in Village East, a small retirement community, said residents there had been informed their boxes were being replaced and it would cost $49.95 to have new ones installed. 
Residents are supposed to return their boxes, said Virginia White, but nine don't even have cars and some are homebound.
"It would be impossible for these people to return the boxes to Spectrum or to UPS and the majority of us cannot afford a $49 fee to install these boxes," she said. "I think that [owner] EastPoint should be responsible for returning the boxes and possibly paying the fee."
Residents also spoke of constant service calls and billing issues, the shifting of the PEG channel numbers that made them difficult to find, and concerns about keeping the office on Hodges Cross Road open. 
"We're a small close-knit community. We need that connection. We have a lot of elderly folks that still rely on face-to-face connection," said Council President Bryan Sapienza. "They're not all on cell phones, like a lot of the younger generation."
The city and towns are also calling on the company to fund NBCTC's equipment needs to ensure its capability to serve the community. This need was markedly evident when the pandemic hit in 2020. 

The hybrid meeting was carried on NBCTC. 
"Never has community television been more important, especially public, educational and government access, or its contributions, more recognized and appreciated," said the mayor, who opened the hearing. "Democracy would have died for almost a year during COVID if we did not have the actions and assistance of community television.
"Now more than ever, it is the best interest of cities and towns to do their part to help PEG access providers such as our own Northern Berkshire Community Television."
Her comments were echoed by other local officials, with Adams Town Administrator Jay Green saying NBCTC made sure "that people understood that the local government is still functioning despite the trauma and despite not being able to assemble which is a hallmark of of local government."
Public access is often undervalued, said Executive Director David Fabiano. "However, when the pandemic struck, NBCTC demonstrated that community access centers are a critical community resource."
The station immediately upgraded software to incorporate online platforms into the video switching equipment allowing it to carry remote meetings live, provide options for Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the public schools to offer distance learning, offered a way for people to experience worship services, and let public access producers stream from their homes and even take live phone calls. 
"As technology continues to evolve, it is evident that we will need continued investment in our equipment and software," Fabiano said. "We also feel it is time for the programming on all three of NBCTC channels be transmitted in high definition on par with quality local broadcast channels. In addition, we would like our programming to be included in Spectrum's local electronic program guide which would allow residents to see both current and upcoming programs on our channels."
The station has continued to offer these teleconferencing options and hopes to obtain the funding to expand and help each community to outfit their meeting rooms with hybrid equipment to allow them to incorporate a virtual meeting platforms such as Zoom into their meetings.
Fabiano was applauded when he finished and a number of people who have appeared on or produced shows on NBCTC testified to its value. 
"It's preservation is even more important and impactful with the loss of so many institutions for information, especially our local newspapers or any other resources for public information," said Rachel Branch, whose "Solutions Rising" show has been on NBCTC for a dozen years. "NBCTC is especially essential to provide the knowledge and information citizens require when participating in civic and government policy. This cannot be overestimated."
Amber Besaw, executive director of Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, said the station "enables our residents and neighbors to watch uniquely local programming about and for their community as well as provide information about local events and news that are of interest to them."
Another producer, Richard Dasatti, advocated for the PEG channels be returned to the lower numbers so more people can get them and noted the loss of the area's print newspaper and radio station. 
"I think this is a really valuable resource where you should put some money into it," he said.
There was widespread agreement that the main issues outside supporting NBCTC were cost, service, billing, access and the length of the contract. 
Attorney William Soloman, who is representing the communities, said hearing from everybody makes a difference — especially if they have the same concerns. The more people who comment, the more Spectrum is likely to listen, he said. 
"If you have something to say, this is an amazingly great opportunity to be heard and to make a difference in the cable license negotiation," he said. 
The mayor said anyone with comments can call, write or email her office so they can be added to the list. 
More Featured Stories is owned and operated by: Boxcar Media 102 Main Sreet, North Adams, MA 01247 -- T. 413-663-3384
© 2011 Boxcar Media LLC - All rights reserved