Legislation that would authorize Montgomery County to grant cable television franchises was presented this week to the County Council.
The legislation, introduced at the request of county executive James P. Gleason, is the result of three years of research by the county. Gaithersburg is the only city in the county that has a cable television system now. Late last year, Rockville officials voted not to award a franchise, saying they were not sure that a cable system would be economically viable.
Opposition to the proposal has already surfaced. At this week's meeting Council Vice President Elizabeth Scull said she does not believe the bill "meets a real need to the suburban county. I do not feel that television programs have earned the right to an assist from the county government."
Council President John Menke, who said he introduced the bill because Gleason "pressed" for it, added that "I personally must say I agree" with Scull.
Under the proposed legislation, the county would be authorized, after a public hearing, to grant one or more revocable franchises for operation of a cable television system in the county. The term of each franchise could not exceed 15 years. Franchise holders would pay the county up to 5 per cent of gross subscriber revenue and the funds would be used to regulate the cable television system. Subscriber fees would be determined by the Council.
Under the law, each franchise system would have at least the equivalent of 20 television broadcast channels. One of the channels would have to be a noncommercial, public access channel available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each franchise would also have to have a channel designated for use by local educational authorities and a channed for local government uses.
The system would cost an estimated $17 million to install and it would take cable operators between nine and 11 years to recoup the initial investment, according to William Hussman, chief administrative officer.
According to the report, 20 to 25 per cent of county residents would elect to receive the service during its first year of operation and the number of subscribers would rise to 35 to 40 per cent of county residents by the eighth or ninth year of operation. The service would be available to 92 per cent of the county's population.
The county decided to investigate the possibility of cable television in 1973 after 14 companies asked for franchises. William Rossi, county communications chief, said five or six of those companies have indicated they are still interested.
Hearings on the measure are expected to be held in May. If the legislation passes the County council, it would take at least a year and a half for a cable television system to be put into operation.
In other action, the council authorized up to $5 million in county revenue bonds to finance pollution control facilities at the Pepco Dickerson generation station. The county will not be responsible for or obligated to pay debt service associated with the bonds but will act as a tax exempt conduit for the Pepco long-term obligation.