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Charter official:We’re making tough choices

Charter official:We’re making tough choices

Posted: Monday, December 22, 2008 9:14 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter “We did it for you.” Such is the sentiment im-plied in a letter from Charter Communications to Congress-man John Tanner about its recent termination of several TV channels popular in northwest Tennessee. On Dec. 12, with the flip of a faraway switch, the St. Louis divisional office of the cable TV giant pulled the plug on three TV channels much viewed in this area — Channel 3, Memphis, ABC; Channel 4, Memphis, NBC; and Channel 5, Nashville, CBS. The abrupt action unleashed a barrage of criticism amid a chorus of condemnation by John Q. Public. Union City Mayor Terry Hailey lashed out at the Charter decision-makers. Tanner wrote Charter an official letter, asking them to reconsider, saying viewers in this area depended on the channels for news, sports and public safety information. A reply in the form of a formal letter came not from St. Louis, but from Newtown, Conn., Charter’s supreme headquarters. It was signed by Joshua Jamison, Charter’s divisional president/east. Jamison’s two-page, single-spaced reply to Tanner can be condensed to these few words: “We did it for you.” Case in point: Paragraph two. “In order to ensure that the residents of the 8th (Congressional) District of Tennessee are kept as up to date with innovative products and advanced services offered to other customers in the state and across the country, Charter must reclaim bandwidth to be able to provide highly demanded high-definition (HD) programming, faster Internet speed and other advanced services,” Jamison stated. He further stated Charter had “numerous and frequent requests” for additional choices in HD programming, faster Internet speed and other advanced services. He added that the Union City mayor was among those requesting the additions, to which Hailey replied, “Humbug! The only thing I asked for was an NBC station.” Jamison asserted that in 2008, Charter added 11 HD channels and 16 additional digital channels. Plans call for five more HD channels in 2009. “Similarly, Video on Demand (VOD), also a much requested service, is being rolled out for the first time for your constituents in Union City and Martin. All of these highly-requested consumer choices require bandwidth to deploy,” he wrote. With the imminent changeover on Feb. 17, 2009, from analog to HD, more “space” will be needed on the Ultra High Frequencies (UHF) and above for transmission of TV signals. Charter asserted HD transmissions require wider bandwidths than the “old” analog broadcast system. Jamison stated “bandwidth reclamation” is critical to the Feb. 17, 2009, transition to HD. “Charter is required by the Federal Communications Commission to carry the digital feed, including the HD feed of any broadcaster who currently has channel placement on our system,” he said. “These channels consume twice the bandwidth of any analog channel and we must be able to pro vide capacity to accommodate this change in order to ensure a successful digital transition.” Jamison said Charter understands the “passion” — a polite pseudonym for “furor” — surrounding the request for Nashville news in the Union City and Martin markets, but “bandwidth challenges” make the “distant signal” broadcasters outside the station’s Designated Market Area (DMA) no longer a viable option. “I want to put your concerns about the safety and well-being of our customers in the Martin and Union City area to rest. The ABC and FOX stations in Jackson, both of which have significantly viewed status in the market, broadcast weather information relative to Martin and Union City as well as the regional and cultural interests to residents in those communities. Charter is part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the majority of our customers in those communities have access to The Weather Channel.” Moreover, he said, Charter’s Tennessee government relations director has had discussions with WTVF-CBS affiliate in Nashville, “and there is no desire on their part to gain ‘significantly viewed’ status in that market.” “It is our sincerest goal to provide our customers with the value and choices that they depend on Charter Communications to deliver. In doing that, some tough choices must inevitably be made in order to continue to make most efficient use of bandwidth,” Jamison stated. Whether the channels can be restored remains to be seen. Jamison did not address that point in his letter. He did not return The Messenger’s call to his Connecticut office. However, Hailey said he isn’t buying Charter’s alibis about the critical need of bandwidth. “They can put those channels back if they want to,” he said. Published in The Messenger 12.22.08

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