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Sen. Fattman backs NCTV in tussle with cable provider

By Rod Lee

With an appearance by State Sen. Ryan Fattman of Webster at its annual meeting on September 21st, Northbridge Community Television (NCTV) indicated that it is bringing out the big guns in a continuing tug-of-war with “Charter/Spectrum” for services the local-access channel says the cable provider is not delivering as required by contract.

House bill H.2682, introduced in the Legislature by Rep. Ruth B. Balser of Newton and Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral of New Bedford, would require all cable TV operators to provide to public, educational and governmental-access channels like NCTV (formerly Channel 11, now 191) signals that are equivalent to those received by primary local broadcast channels that are part of the TV operator’s system.

One provision of H.2682 (S.1857 in the Senate) asks that local-access channels be provided with the capability of offering programming not just in digital but in high definition, or HD.

House bill H.2682 would also require Charter/Spectrum to provide electronic programming guides so that subscribers may record, select and view local-access channels in the same manner they do when utilizing primary local broadcast channels.

In neither instance is this the case right now, NCTV Station Manager Bill Cartaglia said.

Sen. Fattman could not stay at NCTV’s annual meeting in its studio on Church Ave. in Northbridge long but while there he promised the legislation will be moved forward and acted on; if not in 2017, then next year. It has been referred to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities & Energy.

Meanwhile in a video message, David Gauthier of MassAccess.org encouraged local access channel subscribers to “let the cable companies know what’s important to you” by seeking support for passage of the legislation.

“Eighty-five percent of the communities in Massachusetts can have HD right now,” Mr. Cartaglia said. “We would have to change equipment but we offered to pay for that. Charter/Spectrum refused.” Under the present arrangement, because NCTV isn’t allowed to present programming in HD, “I tape all shows in HD but then we have to dumb it down for Charter/Spectrum,” he said.

Mr. Cartaglia said NCTV’s issues with Charter/Spectrum date back to when NCTV was arbitrarily switched from Channel 11 on the remote to a less-favorable Channel 191 several years ago. Channel 11, he said, has since become available but Charter/Spectrum has spurned his request to get it back, saying “we’re saving it for future use.”

Anna Lucey, director of government affairs for Charter, did not immediately respond to a query about the legislation.

Sen. Fattman’s backing is crucial in NCTV’s efforts to “just stay viable,” Mr. Cartaglia said. “I reached out to some other legislators and didn’t get a response.” In answering Mr. Cartaglia’s request and joining the cause Rep. Fattman told him “you are the only person who has complained to me in writing.”

Mr. Cartaglia awaits the fate of the legislation. The problem, he said, is “cable companies have hundreds of lobbyists, we have only a few.”

Contact Rod Lee at [email protected] or 774-232-2999.