If there were a scoreboard to show who is ahead in the contest to bring cable television to Rpince George's County, it would now read: Municipalities 5, County 0.
Over the past three months, five Prince George's municipalities have agreed to grant franchises to cable firms, thus entering the million-dollar world of cable TV.
Meanwhile, a consultant for the county Cable Television Commission has just begun drafting an application form for candidates for the two countywide franchises that will be awarded sometime in early 1981.
Hyattsville, Bladensburg, Riverdale and Cottage City have cast their lots with Storer Broadcasting, a firm headed by former Prince George's executive Winfield Kelly. If all goes according to schedule, residents of these four towns will have cable television within a year.
Deciding to break ranks with the pack, Capitol Heights signed a tentative agreement with Cross-Country Cable, directed in Prince George's by Democratic State Delegate Frank Komenda.
Unless Cross-Country is able to find another municipality in the area to follow suit, however, the firm may have to back out of the deal with Capitol Heights, Komenda has said.
Municipal leaders say they decided to take the initiative in bringing cable television to Prince George's because they believe political bickering between County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan and the County Council will delay the granting of a countrywide franchise.
Recently, the executive lost out in a confrontation with the council over a bill that would give the council the last word on who wins the county franchises: Hogan argued that the measure would "politicize" franchise granting. He said the council should allow the cable television commission, made up of five members appointed by the executive and approved by the council, to award the franchise.
The council passed the legislation giving itself the final decision by a vote of 10 to 1. Hogan this week tried to veto the council action, but was promptly overridden.
Although cable commission executive director Robert Sikorski has tried to assure municipal leaders that the council and Hogan will not turn the franchise-granting process into a political football, the locals remain unconvinced. Their confidence in the county was dealt a further blow a few weeks ago when Sikorski announced that he planned to resign shortly for "family reasons."
"We decided to go ahead and grant a franchise because we were afraid the county was going to get bogged down in politics," said Bladensburg Mayor Susanna Cristofane. "We chose Storer because they were well-financed, and had a good track record in other places they had operated cable systems."
It might also be added that Storer's chief salesman, Winfield Kelly, is well-known and trusted in the municipalities.
"I've known Kelly all my life, but that didn't have anything to do with Edward L. Hudgins. "Only two companies did presentations and Storer offered us the best deal."
"People in the county are finally saying to the county leaders: 'Let's get on with it, let's bring cable to Prince George's,'" said Kelly. "I've been active in the community for a long time -- long before I was county executive -- and people know I'll be around for a awhile. When you consider the fact that Storer is well-financed and has been in this business for a long time, it's reasonable to expect it to do well."
The towns have not always been determined to take an independent course. When county government leaders conceived the idea of a countywide system, many municipal leaders sat back to see what would happen. Now, five years after the enabling legislation for cable television went into effect, municipalities have begun to venture out on their own.
Prince George's has 29 government entities that can grant their own franchises -- 28 municipalities and the county itself.
"There weren't too many reasons to wait for the county," said Hyattsville city administrator Robert Johnson. We've been waiting on them for four or five years. It was time for some decisive action, and we just didn't see it coming from Upper Marlboro."
Municipal leaders also have been encouraged to go it alone because they do not have to share public access channels with the county government when they grant their own franchises. With their own channels, the towns can broadcast any local meetings, and educational, library or other programs they want.
"We would be at the mercy of the county in vyng for time to show local programming if we joined the county system," said Johnson. "This way we can set up our own schedules."
Under the Storer proposal, a large antenna would be erected in Hyattsville to receive signals from television stations in metropolitan Washington and from satellites beaming programs from distant independent stations -- like Ted Turner's Channel 17 in Atlanta. Cables would be run from that antenna to homes in the four municipalities that have signed up with Storer.
Both Storer and Cross-Country have offered to provide similar services to cable subscribers, who would pay $7.50 per month for access to between 20 and 35 channels. Special channels for airing of recently released movies could be purchased for an additional $8.50 per month.
There would be stations carrying religious programming, children's entertainment and live coverage of events at Madison Square Garden and in the U.S. Congress. A minimum of two channels would be provided for programming by local government, schools and religious groups.
Up to now, Storer had dominated the cable market in Prince George's prompting speculation that the company is trying to maneuver in to a position to take one, if not both, of the two large county franchises that will be awarded early next year.
Under the 1975 legislation creating the county cable commission, Prince George's will be divided into two franchise areas of equal economic value.
Even if all 28 municipalities awarded individual franchises, three-quarters of Prince George's households are not located inside municipal boundries and still would be without cable television.
This is perhaps the reason that the approximately 25 cable companies that hope to capture the market in Prince George's have decided to hold off until the countywide franchises are awarded.
Several other municipalities,like University Park and Mount Rainier, are considering whether to take the initiative and grant franchises. Still, cable commissioner Sikorski, who would like to see the towns opt for the county system, does not seem worried.
"The cable commission has met all of its deadlines," said Sikorski. "If everything goes smoothly, the county could have some customers on line by June 1981. Even if all of the municipalities grant their own franchsises, we're going to go on with our job. You have to remember 63 percent of the high-density areas in the county are in non-municipal areas."