Almost two weeks after the all-digital transition of Spectrum cable service in Pittsfield, locals will have the golden opportunity to tell the representatives of the company how they feel about the new service.
It might not be sweet.
Since the transition, the residents of Pittsfield have been reaching out to the mayor’s office and city councilors to speak about the transition, which forces them to use a digital converter box with every television set.
Linda Tyer, mayor of Pittsfield is citing a clause in the cable franchise agreement of the city to give anxious residents a chance to confront the representatives of the company.
“I think it’s great for the first time the mayor is using the clause in the contract to have [Spectrum representatives] come out,” said Peter White, city Councilor At-Large. “I doubt anyone will say that they’re happy with the service.”
White stated that he believes locals will be putting forward various concerns, including the issues with service, price hikes and the whereabouts of public access channels.
“I just know that people are really upset over all of this,” he claimed.
The hearing will be summoned in the Berkshire Athenaeum at 6 p.m. Monday.
Spectrum is the brand name of Charter Communications, which acquired Time Warner Cable last year. Time Warner Cable provided broadband Internet, cable television and telephone services throughout much of Berkshire County. This year, the company undertook the transition to an all-digital, encrypted signal, which, it claims, will help offer better service, including more channels, more features, on-demand content and faster Internet speeds.
In February, the switch was completed in the southern and northern Berkshire County while the Pittsfield area was covered by March 6. Customers who were able to watch few channels previously by connecting their television sets to the cable outlet directly are now required to use digital converter boxes with each television set.
According to the programming packages, Spectrum customers will be entitled to obtain at least one box free for one, two or five years. And those who are eligible for Medicaid might obtain two digital receivers free for up to five years, the company claimed.
After the free period concludes, the digital receivers will be charged with a monthly fee of $6.99 per box for those who have Spectrum television packs, and $11.75 for those who have the legacy Time Warner cable packs.
There has been a lot of pushback throughout the county that has spread along with the transition.
In Northern Berkshire, D-North Adams, state representative John Barrett III, termed the fees for the cable boxes being given to the customers a “travesty.”
Barrett, who is an opposer of the cable companies for a long time, conveyed his distress last month on Facebook.
“Their new requirement that you must have a digital box for each of your TV sets in order to receive their signal is highway robbery,” Barrett noted. “Spectrum is requiring these boxes for their benefit and not the consumers’ benefit.”
Charter Communications’ northeast regional director of communications, Andrew Russell said that it is regular for the company representatives to meet with the customers and officials that they serve in 41 states.
“Given the vigorous competition in the pay-TV and broadband industry, we are always interested in our customers’ feedback and we continue to innovate new products and services to give customers what they want,” Russell claimed.
The transfer of public access channels is one of the changes that have vexed the locals. Three access channels of the Pittsfield Community Television — education, government and public — have been shifted to channels 1303, 1302 and 1301.
Russell claimed that the channels will be available in the same packs, however, they have been classified in the 1300s.
“Customers tell us they like grouping channels this way by theme because it makes them easier to find,” he stated. “It also reflects how people are searching for content and watching TV today.”
D-Pittsfield, State representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier is motivating the locals to register all their troubles with the office of Attorney General Maura Healy, which can inspect for unfair practices and consumer fraud.
“I have heard from constituents, from my own family, this is really very troublesome,” she claimed on Friday. “I really do think this is a consumer protection issue because the people don’t have choices. That’s when you need to protect consumers the most.”
Farley-Bouvier also said that it can be infuriating for those who work in the state government because when the regulation of cable companies comes into the picture, the federal government should be the one to enforce a lot of changes. Advocacy is used as a tool by the state representatives to press for change, she claimed.
“Our office is aware of the situation and has met with the parties involved to learn more about Charter Spectrum’s switch to digital and its impact on the Berkshire communities,” Chloe Gotsis spokeswoman for Healey said recently. “We are monitoring the situation and encourage those who have concerns to reach out to our office.”
On Thursday, a spokeswoman affirmed that the office of Attorney General continues to observe the situation.
Brian Johnson, who worked on the cable commission of the city in 2014 back when Pittsfield came into an agreement with Time Warner, claimed that he understands why the transition to the digital service is being done by the company, but he questions why should the cost of the converter boxes fall on the customers, the questions.
The city is wired only for a definite number of megahertz, frequently used to measure the bandwidth of digital communication signals, Johnson claimed.
By removing the analog service from the picture, the megahertz can be freed and used for faster Internet services or other advantages instead, which can be beneficial for both the customers as well as the company, he stated.
“We need more broadband capacity. We need more internet capabilities,” Johnson stated. “In order for them to do that, they need to free up some megahertz.”
However, since the transition is in the company’s favor, Johnson completely holds Spectrum accountable for taking care of the converter boxes.
“Because it’s advantageous for them, even though we also benefit, they should be giving us the box for free,” he stated. “It’s a slap in the face for residents of Pittsfield.”
If the boxes can’t be given away for free, he claimed, the total cost of the boxes should be shared with the customers, and they should not be charged with the monthly fee after the total amount is paid off.
Councilor White stated that he’s “hopeful” about the hearing on Monday and that the concerns of the customers will be taken into consideration by the company. Many customers also rely on the spectrum customer service for the digital services regarding the various issues.
However, he also stated that he understands reality and that drastic changes may not take place overnight.