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Channel changes spark a fight


For 26 years, East Rochester residents have been able to watch local government meetings, golf instruction, and cooking programming on channels 12 and 15, all of it produced by their neighbors. They've also been able to tune in to Bombers football games, which are a big deal in the tight-knit village.

But this past spring, Spectrum sprang a big change on the station by moving it to channels 1301 and 1303. The people at ERCN are still creating and transmitting the same content, but now the station is found past the big premium networks and closer to the Playboy channel than WXXI's main programming.

Spectrum made this shift across its territory: Rochester, Penfield, and Irondequoit are dealing with it, as are Buffalo and Lockport in Niagara County. And the folks who operate the stations are not happy about the change, which they say happened without adequate notice to them or the viewers.

"People don't know where to find us, so we're slowly losing viewership," says John Schroth, station director for ERCN, East Rochester's community access channel. The station also serves the Village of Fairport, Perinton, and Pittsford.

The East Rochester village board recently passed a resolution asking the state Public Service Commission to force Spectrum to move the stations back. Spectrum is legally required to provide public access channels to the communities it serves, and the Public Service Commission regulates New York's cable companies.

The Village of Fairport passed a similar resolution earlier this month, Pittsford is planning to pass one, and Perinton officials plan to write the PSC, says Schroth. County Legislator Howard Maffucci, who represents part of East Rochester, is also working on a memorandum from the County Legislature in support of the channels.

Schroth and Penfield Community TV director David Renner say the move is just another example of Spectrum treating the public access channels differently from other local broadcasters. Spectrum matches local network affiliates with their over-the-air channels, so WROC is on channel 8, WHEC is on channel 10, WHAM is on channel 13; WXXI is grouped with the local networks on channel 11, though its over-the-air channel is 21.1.

The public access channels are also forced to broadcast in standard definition, with mono – not stereo – audio, which undermines the channels' credibility with the public, Renner says.

Schroth says now is a good time to press the issue because of the PSC's ongoing proceedings involving Spectrum and its parent company, Charter Communications. The state has revoked its approval of the merger between Charter and Time Warner Cable, which birthed Spectrum. State officials argue that the new corporation failed to fulfill commitments to expand broadband internet service in the state. Company representatives and state officials have since been in talks.

Spectrum spokesperson Lara Pritchard says the shift mirrors what the company has done in other markets "serving millions of customers." She also says that the company notified the public-access stations and sent customers a letter, along with an updated channel lineup.

"Customers tell us they like grouping channels by theme because it makes them easier to find, and it also reflects how people watch TV today," Pritchard said in an e-mailed response to questions.