I see that Mayor John Barrett III (D-North Adams) is filing a lawsuit against Time Warner Cable over the upcoming changes.
I do not claim to be an expert on telecommunications law (or any law, for that matter, though I’ve picked up a bit of intellectual property law by virtue of being both a composer and a theorist who studies quotation), but I do know when a large corporation is trying to alter the social and political landscape for personal gain. Follow me on this.
Since the time of Shays’ Rebellion, and probably even before that, western Massachusetts has been…shall we say, considered a different place than the rest of the state. If I’m reading my map correctly, we here in the Tunnel City are actually closer to two other state capitals (Albany and Hartford) than we are to Boston – and we’re almost exactly the same distance from Concord as we are from Boston. Nevertheless, we are Massachusettsians too, and what happens in OUR state capital affects us more than what happens in Albany.
Don’t get me wrong – being a state government junkie, I enjoy watching the public affairs programs on Capital News 9; however, it’s academic interest, since no New York State law will ever affect day-to-day functioning in North Adams. And yes, we do have NECN, way up there on Channel 70. If you get the most basic package, I do not believe you get NECN.
Time Warner, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that Albany is the center of our telecommunications universe. Why have they decided this?
Time Warner does not care if the citizens of North Adams are able to get information through their system about their state government.
Time Warner does not care if the citizens of North Adams can stay up-to-date on the issues that affect them directly on Beacon Hill.
Time Warner does not care if the citizens of North Adams are in the dark about major political and policy debates of great importance.
Time Warner is out to make more money. How does Time Warner make more money? Ad sales and revenue. Since North Adams is closer to Albany than to Boston, many people here in NA, when looking for items you can only find in larger cities, choose Albany because it is geographically closer. Time Warner sees this, and knows it can charge more for ads out here if the businesses in Albany don’t have to worry about competition from businesses in Boston.
It’s all about the Benjamins, as the kids used to say.
Given the choice between making sure the citizens of North Adams are able to get information about their state government and making more money, they’re going with the second option every time. It’s also the main reason C-SPAN is likely to be moved to the “standard” tier (past channel 22, which costs more). C-SPAN doesn’t have ads. You can’t make money on C-SPAN.
I can hear the fundamentalist libertarians: “So why not get a dish or avoid cable altogether?”
(1) Dish operates under a similar principle; in their parlance, our “local channels” would be Albany channels, and you have the same issue. Plus, no public access on a dish.
(2) I was without cable for 2 weeks when I first moved here. You can barely pick up two channels, and both are Albany-based channels.
There’s the Internet, to be sure…and that is another argument for Net Neutrality. But even so, internet access was spotty out here until it was demanded by those interested in making sure people could get to it. Remember that this area didn’t have touch-tone until the early 1990s.
How about Cable Competition? Be careful for what you wish. Verizon would LOVE for that to happen, but then the “unprofitable” channels (read: public access, PBS, C-SPAN, et al) could easily be dropped in the price wars that would result. Public affairs need airing, and no amount of Capitalism Über Alles is going to fix that.
What can we do? Contact Rep. John Olver at 202-225-5335 (Washington, DC) or 413-442-0946 (Pittsfield). Another Massachusetts representative, Rep. Ed Markey (who has been in the forefront of Net Neutrality issues), is Chair of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. His staffer Maura Quinn, who is gathering information on this issue, can be reached at the Medford office – 781-396-2900.
Sen. John Kerry chairs the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Innovation. You can contact him at 202-224-2742 (Washington, DC) or 413-785-4610 (Springfield). Sen. Edward Kennedy is Chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and inasmuch as this is both a Massachusetts issue and an educational issue (access to information about government), he’s probably worth contacting too. He can be reached at 202-224-4543 (Washington, DC) or 877-472-9014 (Boston, toll-free).