Arlington Telecommunications Corp. (ARTEC) and George Mason University have signed a contract that should hasten a long-delayed plan to provide increased community access to cable television in Arlington.
Under the contract, signed last week by ARTEC -- which controls cable television in Arlington -- and George Mason officers, ARTEC would convert 20,000 square feet of space at the university's Arlington campus to a studio designed for community programs. The Arlington campus, on Fairfax Drive near the Virginia Square Metro stop, also houses the George Mason law school and graduate classes in business and public administration.
An ARTEC spokeswoman said the firm plans to invest $170,000 to equip the studio, which also would be used for "teleconferencing," a system that allows two-way communication with other communities that have cable TV systems.
ARTEC also plans to spend $72,500 a year to staff, operate and maintain the facility, the spokeswoman said.
In addition to using the facility for community programs, ARTEC plans to provide some technical training for citizens who want to learn the production side of television broadcasting. The first training level, describing overall operations, would be free. The second level, which would be more technical and would involve instruction on using the equipment, would cost $40, the spokeswoman said.
During the past year, ARTEC has come under increasing public attack for its failure to provide community access to cable TV, services that initially were planned when ARTEC was awarded the Arlington cable franchise in 1973. The system began broadcasting three years ago and now serves 22,000 Arlington households.
While some community programming, such as a recent softball game, has been featured, it has not been as extensive as originally envisioned. The public-access channel should have a wider variety of local news, sports and cultural events, as well as citizen-sponsored shows, county officials and residents have complained.
But the $8 million ARTEC system has been plagued with financial difficulties and is seeking a loan of nearly $6 million to cover debts. In order to secure the loan, ARTEC officials have asked the County Board to extend its franchise through 1995. The franchise was to have expired in 1985.
In July, the County Board tentatively agreed to a 1991 extension. County staff members and ARTEC officials are working on the finer points of that extension, and the Board is expected to make a final decision at its meeting Sept. 12.