Home » Charter Spectrum »Competition »Consumer News »Public Policy & Gov't » Currently Reading:

Spectrum Continues to Yank Semi-Local TV Stations from Lineups Across the Country

Phillip Dampier June 20, 2018 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't 8 Comments

Gone from Spectrum lineups across northern New England.

Many Spectrum cable television customers across the country have seen their broadcast TV lineups shrink as the company removes “duplicate” and “semi-local” stations, even as it hikes the cost of its Broadcast TV surcharge.

Southern Maine customers are the latest to be affected with the sudden removal of Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV on June 5 — the last Boston area station on the television lineup.

“York (Maine) is part of the Portland TV market and we carry the designated in-market ABC affiliate — WMTW,” responded Andrew Russell, Spectrum’s director of communications for the northeast division. “We no longer carry the out-of-market ABC affiliate.”

Viewers trying to watch WCVB in southern Maine saw a screen stating “programming on this network is no longer available,” instead of local news and traffic information important for a number of southern Maine residents that commute down I-95 into the Boston area for work.

“I am fit to be tied,” York Beach resident Ken Morrison told the Bangor Daily News. “And I’m not alone. A lot of people are very upset about it.”

Subscribers in distant suburbs, exurban or rural areas between two major cities often had access (often for decades) to several stations in adjacent television markets. Each subscriber could choose the station serving the city that was most relevant in their lives. Prior to Spectrum and Time Warner Cable, cable systems in these areas were often locally owned and operated by smaller companies. These operators were responsive to the needs of their customers and distant over-the-air stations were often a part of the cable lineup from the 1970s forward. But as consolidation in cable industry continues, local lineups are now usually determined in a corporate office hundreds of miles away.

This Binghamton, N.Y. PBS station was thrown off the Spectrum lineup across several counties in the Southern Tier.

That could explain why Spectrum subscribers living in Tompkins and Cortland counties in New York suddenly lost WSKG-TV, the PBS affiliate from nearby Binghamton in favor of Syracuse-based WCNY-TV. Local residents do not consider themselves a part of Syracuse. Most consider themselves residents of the Southern Tier, which stretches along the New York-Pennsylvania border and includes Binghamton, Corning, Elmira, Hornell, Olean, Salamanca, Dunkirk, Jamestown, and Vestal. Residents will tell you they have more in common with their neighbors in northern Pennsylvania than Syracuse, but Spectrum apparently knew better and announced viewers in the two counties would now have to be satisfied watching a PBS station broadcasting to an audience at least 50 miles away.

Spectrum’s decision in this case does not appear to be a financial one.

“A public media organization like us gets no money from Charter to air our programming,” said WSKG’s management. “Our programming is provided to them for free, by law.”

WSKG believes what is actually behind Spectrum’s decision to change the lineup is the regionalization of their cable system head-ends, from which television programming is managed. Programming seen on Spectrum subscribers’ TV screens across much of the Southern Tier and part of the Finger Lakes region is now managed from Charter offices in Syracuse.

“In this case, because our tower is more than 70 miles from Syracuse’s head-end, where the signal originates, there’s a line of demarcation where they don’t have to carry our signal anymore,” said WSKG station president and chief executive, Greg Catlin. “In this case, that cut-off is Cortland and Tompkins County. They have every right to be doing what they’re doing. That doesn’t mean they have to do it.”

Subscribers were exceptionally unhappy to lose their Binghamton PBS station, and the station received a significant number of listener and viewer contributions from an area that is now cut off. The Southern Tier, like Pennsylvania to the south, is notorious for poor signals due to mountainous terrain, which limits television and FM radio reception. Verizon offers no competing television service in this part of New York, leaving residents with satellite television as the only possible alternative.

WPTZ in Plattsburgh is off Spectrum lineups in several parts of northern New York.

The first week of June was a significant date on the calendar for many residents in Spectrum’s northeastern service areas. In northern New York, Spectrum customers were notified they were losing WPTZ, the NBC affiliate in Plattsburgh, in favor of Syracuse’s NBC station WSTM-TV. That Syracuse station now produces news and current affairs programming for three Syracuse stations – WSTM itself, WTVH (CBS) and WSTQ (CW) under the “CNY Central” brand. But subscribers who lost WPTZ do not consider themselves a part of central New York and would more likely choose to visit Vermont than Syracuse.

In other parts of New England, Spectrum customers also lost WMUR-TV — the New Hampshire station with one of the best regarded news operations in northern New England, in favor of WVNY in Burlington, Vt. Newscasts on WVNY are produced by its sister station WFFF-TV. WMUR has a larger American audience than WVNY. In fact, this Vermont ABC affiliate has far more viewers in southern Québec and Montréal than it does in its own home market.

Back in Maine, the local congressional delegation is turning up the heat on Spectrum, so far to no avail. State Reps. Lydia Blume and Patricia Hymanson of York have written a letter to Spectrum demanding the company reinstate WCVB or reduce the cable television bills of affected customers to compensate. So far, Spectrum has done neither.

<

div>

Morrison told the Bangor newspaper Channel 5 “is the channel of the household. We watch it every day, multiple times a day,” he said. “Many people in the York area commute to Boston. The traffic reports on Channel 5 are essential.” WCVB was also the last Boston channel that could be accessed through Spectrum. Boston channels 4 and 7 have already been discontinued.

WMUR in Manchester, N.H. is gone for many New England Spectrum subscribers.

After contacting town officials, who hold the franchise agreement with Spectrum until it expires in 2022, Morrison learned a powerful lesson about deregulation. When a cable company lacks competition or regulation, it can do pretty much what it wants.

York town manager Steve Burns says his hands are tied, noting that Spectrum’s franchise agreement is written to automatically renew (for their convenience) unless the town wants to attempt to renegotiate.

“But negotiate how?” Burns asked. “Comcast is not going to come in and compete with Spectrum. They divvy up the territory. And there’s no one else.”

Spectrum has also made sure that Burns’ phone is among those that rings first when a customer has a complaint, noting Spectrum prints his name and number on each subscriber’s bill, listing him as the “franchise administrator” for the town.

“But it doesn’t mean anything,” Burns told the newspaper. “We have no authority. They decide the programming and the fees. I don’t think we’re important to them.”

So far, all Spectrum has been willing to do is mail out a channel request form to residents who complain, but there is scant evidence the cable company will restore the Boston station, because it has refused other similar requests from subscribers across the country.

For customers in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, they know only too well how responsive Spectrum is to channel requests. When Spectrum took over Time Warner Cable, local subscribers lost access to several stations (most recently WCVB as well), forcing some to watch local news from stations either in Albany, N.Y., or Springfield, Mass. At the same time, customers were notified Spectrum was increasing its Broadcast TV surcharge, for fewer channels.

Spectrum did not offer any significant response to U.S. Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, or Congressman Richard Neal when they contacted Charter Communications to complain. In Maine, it is the same story for Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, as well as Rep. Chellie Pingree.

Currently there are 8 comments on this Article:

  1. Wilhelm says:

    I’m in the Finger Lakes where Spectrum removed WROC-8 last Fall, but we still get other Rochester channels, WHAM-13, WHEC-10 and WXXI-21. I have to wonder how long this is going to last.

  2. John says:

    I live in of the effected counties, believe it or not our village is twenty three miles from WSKG Tower,
    approxiamately eighty miles from Syracuse, WSKG was on cable system in 1965, before the other station
    even existed, and they wonder why they are losing video subs in droves,, dropping what I consider locals stations,
    raising prices, and to top it off, they have a two month retrans fight with with three local stations Two Fox and a CW,
    leaving us without any Fox affiliate, I asked them if they would refund some of the surcharge, no answer.

    • Yes, that battle with Northwest Broadcasting, which also involved stations in Idaho-Wyoming and California, was the nastiest in recent history, with several months of being booted off the lineup. Northwest, Spectrum claims, was asking for more money for its stations than any other station owner in the country. I don’t know if that is true, but I suspect Northwest probably blinked first, because they own small market stations and don’t have the clout bigger station groups have.

      If you ask for a refund, they should give you a courtesy credit to make you go away. I’d ask again.

      Rochester’s PBS empire — WXXI seems to be making a move into the central and western Southern Tier. They already have an FM relay in Houghton (Allegany County) on WXXY (formerly WJSL) 90.3 FM, and they are well seen on Spectrum lineups to the south of Rochester.

  3. Doug Stoffa says:

    It’s a bit more complicated than that. Television stations (and the networks that provide them programming) have increased their retransmission fees considerably in the past five years. This FCC Report shows that the average cost a cable company must pay a terrestrial TV station to carry their signal increased from $0.747 per channel in 2013 to $1.069 in 2014. (This data is four years old, so I assume the rates are MUCH higher now.) See table 10 about half-way through the report at the link below:

    https://www.fcc.gov/document/report-average-rates-cable-programming-service-and-equipment-4

    This may explain why the Broadcast TV Surcharge exists, and why it keeps increasing. If you live in a large city, which carries way more than the average 4.5 channels in that table, you could be paying well over $12 per month in re-transmission fees for broadcast TV stations.

    I live closer to Scranton PA than New York City, but get NYC locals on my cable system (because the FCC put me in the NYC DMA). If I was on the hill-top, I could get Scranton TV with an antenna, but not NYC TV… So go figure.

    The responsibility for the loss of these stations falls on many. The cable system removes what they feel is redundant programming (out-of-market network affiliate) in an effort to keep costs down, and the local TV stations demand retransmission fees for programming they essentially give away for free to those who use an antenna. I typically don’t side with the cable company on many issues, but forcing cable subscribers to pay for programming that is free to those who use an antenna is ridiculous, in my opinion.

    To that end, the decision to remove stations as a result of head-end consolidation is unfortunate, but not unexpected in today’s business climate.

    As far as the PBS Stations go, that, too is unfortunate. I would think that much PBS programming is available free via a streaming app.

    And to add one more layer of complexity, I see the desire of cable companies to eliminate full-time linear video programming in favor of switched-digital-video in an effort to clear bandwidth for internet connectivity and higher speeds. And what better place to start than redundant out-of-market network stations…

    • Digital video TV channels occupy next to nothing as far as bandwidth goes. Just look at the huge number of premium international channels loading up on the cable lineup these days. I can certainly appreciate the retransmission consent fees – they are getting out of hand. But the PBS dilemma is important because many medium and small market PBS stations have the best newsrooms and public affairs programming in the market and those shows are frequently not streamed.

      I personally choose to support Wyoming Public Television because my local PBS station is a profligate spender and frankly does not need my money, whereas some of these rural PBS outlets do. They send me a nice newsletter every month discussing the fact some of their local programming is not available for streaming because of the costs imposed by the PBS video platform. For those unaware, PBS and other public networks charge member stations for virtually everything, on a sliding scale fee formula based mostly on market size. Wyoming, like many other smaller “red states” that are loathe to underwrite public broadcasting, have a statewide PBS network that relays the same programming over transmitters located around the state. Here in New York, each local PBS station airs their own programming lineup and make their own independent choices about the shows they air. Some markets even have two public television stations.

      Wyoming Public TV, just like other foundations administering PBS stations in states like Montana, the Dakotas, Alaska, New Mexico, etc., are always pressed for money, so having easy access to donors is very critical. I’d like to see more PBS stations, not less, on the cable lineup. There is enough room, and the programming is free.

    • Brian Keith Eldridge says:

      the most appropriate informative response here…thank you. My gut told me the exact same observations you have stated.

  4. Doug Stoffa says:

    Digital takes up way less space than old analog feeds – agreed. In a given 6 MHz block, the cable company can send down 1 NTSC analog station, 2-4 HD digital stations, and probably 8-12 SD digital stations. Some are horribly compressed.

    When you look at a cable system’s lineup, there is no way all of those channels are being fed down the pipe simultaneously. Sure, the ones with the highest ratings are always being sent. The remainder are being sent down to a two-way addressable converter which asks for the feed, which will either be a linear feed on a switched digital channel, or an “on-demand” feed (IPTV). Most cable systems are 1 GHz, so that leaves maybe 166 “channels” to allocate between IP, SD, and HD? It’s probably more efficient to send the lesser viewed stations via IP or Switched digital video. The more viewed stations will always be taking up bandwidth, so eliminating redundant network TV feeds would clear significant space on the system for the internet speeds people clamor for, as well as reducing the amount of RX fees paid..

  5. John says:

    I read last week that PBS is negotiating with streamers for carriage, implementation
    for local carriage might be a bit tricky, but hey, I want WSKG back!!!







Search This Site:

Contributions:

Recent Comments:

  • Ed: I wish I would've seen this before ordered....
  • Ed: I just ordered 2 of live wave units. Those cicksuckers better work it give money back....
  • Arron: If you are looking stable internet at your location, then Irgdigital.com is providing best internet deals of 2019. You choose according to need at IRG...
  • Dave: Got this ridiculous fee on my bill after Spectrum basically told me I should switch to the newer modem because mine was old. There was never any menti...
  • alan jacoby: Thanks all you guys i was ready to hit the buy button!! Sounds like more b/s to me THANKS AL...
  • Don Rull: I just received the pods for both of my homes that have horrible coverage using the Xfi router. Unfortunately, the app will not work for me and, of co...
  • John: If Starlink and OneWeb deliver on the promise that their internet service from space will be comparable to ground based fiber optic cable, with speeds...
  • Dylan: Definitely for the better. Expect more companies to follow as soon as cord cutting ramps up further....
  • Dylan: Windstream is barely alive as is. Besides. I would be switching to Charter Spectrum if Windstream was declaring bankruptcy and trying to reorganize an...
  • karen: Please HELP ... how do we get rid of the annoying advertising for Spectrum's on Demand show LA's Finest!! I am tired of it showing up on our TVlineu...
  • Lee: And all 1000 property owners approached with an offer for a cell tower should hire a law firm that specializes in cell phone tower contracts. To avoid...
  • Kenneth Richner: I have a choice of two ISP where I live Frontier is one Vito is the other neither are reliable but Zito at least has 100 and 200 Meg speeds available!...

Your Account: