Promising everything from an enhanced image for Prince George's County to more jobs for its residents, eight companies submitted bids this week for lucrative cable television franchises to serve the county's approximately 700,000 residents.
Five companies bid for franchises in both ends of the suburban jurisdiction while three sought only to provide service for the southern half of the county. Competing for the entire package are national cable companies former county executive Winfield Kelly Jr., Democratic State Del. Frank J. Komenda and Gerald Holcomb, an ally of Republican County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
Burglar and smoke detector alarms, special channels for virtually every ethnic and special interest group, and even grants to the county to study energy management and improved telephone service are among the carrots the companies are dangling in an effort to win the cable franchises, which promise annual profits of $9 million to $12 million.
"A lot of these things are carrots, bells and whistles," said Kelly, whose Storer Communications Inc., is offering a few of its own, including $3.9 million for two nonprofit community corporations and a suggestion that some of the bounty be used to provide outside lighting for a Bowie Boys Club.
Using a similar strategy and despite criticism from competitors, Kelly has already sold his Storer system to a dozen municipalities at the northern end of the county. Now he wants the county franchise, and surveying the competition yesterday, confidently predicted, "We're gonna kill'em all."
Komenda, whose New Jersey-based cable company provides service for four southern Prince George's communities demurred. "I think our proposal is second to none," said the state legislator, who represents Cross Country Cable. He rejected the notion that politics would determine the outcome of the contest.
A five-member county cable commission, with a consultant's help, will consider the applications and make recommendations to the County Council, which is dominated by Democrats. Hogan, the Republican county executive, sought to control the franchise awards through the commission, but the council overrode him.
"It's a fact of life and one thing we have to deal with," conceded Holcomb, Hogan's friend and political ally who is president of Cablecom of Maryland, "but I think the Council will do the right thing.Everyone is watching. It keeps them nervous."
"It doesn't matter," said council maverick Sue V. Mills. "The council's made up it's mind. The council will play the game, but in the north, it's Winnie Kelly, and probably, it will be Frank Komenda in the south."
The stack of proposals delivered to the basement office of the cable commission in Upper Marlboro Tuesday are still packed in boxes. Slick summaries prepared by the firms were released yesterday, complete with fancy covers.
Inside, the words were no less lavish. "A door to the world" is what Constitution Cablevision, a local-Canadian partnership, offered. Metrovision of Prince George's County, a subsidiary of the Newhouse media empire, promised "Metro 2000 -- the complete cable system -- designed to meet the needs of this century -- and the next."
The long-shot Prince George's Community Cablevision, the only bidder whose stock is mostly owned by county residents, said it would be "most responsive to local needs" because "We live and work here, not in Denver, Atlanta or New York . . . "
Also bidding are Viacom Cablevision of Maryland, a subsidiary of the country's eighth largest cable company, and Sammons Cable Communications Inc., the country's ninth largest.
In their proposals, the eight firms promise anywhere from 57 to 116 channels at the outset. In some cases, they promise to double the number with a variety of exotic services that won't all appear on the television even homework help for students. "You can promise the blue sky," said Holcomb, Hogan's friend. "To deliver at a cost people can afford is another thing."