There's a first kid on the block when it comes to multi-channel residential TV services in the District of Columbia, and it isn't District Cablevision Inc., which just won the franchise for D.C.'s long-awaited cable TV system.
A new microwave TV service for District, Maryland and Virginia residents is being offered through George Mason University and a private company called the Capitol Connection.
"We believe that the Capitol Connection will be filling a real programming need in the District and specific surrounding areas by offering these quality news, sports, instructional and entertainment services," said James E. Schultz, president of the Arlington-based company.
The service is the first to offer more than one channel of television programming via receiving dishes to homes or apartment houses in the District, Schultz said. It includes C-Span, Cable News Network, open meetings of the Federal Communications Commission, SelecTV premium movie service, and Home Team Sports, Schultz said. The service also will broadcast educational programming from George Mason.
The new service was made possible by a Federal Communications Commission ruling that allows educational institutions with instructional broadcasting licenses to share up to four channels with commercial operators. The arrangements are supposed to encourage new services and generate new sources of revenue.
Initial installation is $249, including an antenna and "brown box" to convert the television signal, and service costs $34.95 a month, Schultz said. The service broadcasts 150 movies a month, 54 of them repeats, compared with Home Box Office's 38 titles a month, Schultz added.
The microwave television service does not interfere with conventional television service, comes with a full warranty and is serviced, if necessary, for free.
The service is bound to compete with the District's cable service, which is not expected to begin operations for several years. "We're providing something that Washington wouldn't have otherwise," said Michael Kelley, director of telecommunications for George Mason. "The more potential services the better for the public -- let the best man win."
Kelley said the Capitol Connection has put up $10 million for the venture, taken over the maintenance of the university's broadcast facilities, and promised the university an undisclosed percentage of the gross sales revenue.. Revenue from the commercial operation will be used to fund educational programming, new scholarships, and eventually a telecommunications masters degree program, Kelley said.
Some media public interest advocates had expressed fears that multi-channel microwave service would destroy the future of cable in the District because it could provide television channels more quickly and cheaply. Others worried that FCC standards for granting educational broadcasting licenses were overly lax. FCC officials are reevaluating the criteria for the granting of licenses.