Fairfax County's lengthy process of awarding cable television franchises stalled again yesterday, and, as with past delays, there were loud complaints from the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors.
"This is ridiculous," declared Board Chairman John F. Herrity (R) before the board voted 6 to 3 to wait 30 to 45 days before seeking franchise applicants. "I was elected by the people of this county to make decisions, and I think it's been a failure in decision-making by this board that's delayed us 3 1/2 years."
Herrity has complained repeatedly about county studies and public hearings that will push the expected completion of a county cable system back to 1988. But the board's majority agreed yesterday to postpone the official release of the county's Request for Proposals for cable franchise bids at the urging of Falls Church, so that city can join in soliciting cable applicants.
"I know there's a great hue and cry out there," said Supervisor Joseph Alexander (D-Lee). "But I don't think there's anything unusual or illogical in delaying, if you want to call it that, to accommodate" the neighboring community.
Joining Herrity in opposing further delay were Supervisors Thomas Davis (R-Mason) and Nancy Falck (R-Dranesville).
The vote accompanied the board's initial review of the 279-page Request for Proposals that county officials say is among the most comprehensive ever produced by a locality seeking cable tv bidders. Production of the document followed three years of stormy debate in the populous, affluent county, which is particularly attractive to cable firms.
If all goes according to schedule, county officials say, some residents could begin getting television via cable as early as 1983. The system is expected to be completed by mid-1988, about a decade after the county began considering cable.
Unlike cable television documents released recently by other jurisdictions, Fairfax's preliminary Request for Proposals sets no absolute requirements for rates, service, technology, or local-access programming. It also does not eliminate from consideration any cable firm that might utilize so-called "rent-a-citizens" -- prominent local individuals who are granted free cable stock in exchange for their help in winning lucrative franchise contracts. The presence of such lobbyists can boost local subscriber rates by up to 20 percent to cover the cost of their stock to the company.
Instead, the Fairfax document requires only that cable applicants make full disclosure on these and other subjects. According to William Rossi Jr., Fairfax County cable television administrator, the document is geared at encouraging cable firms to bring the county favorable proposals without laying out specific requirements.
Such requirements, he said, could possibly be negated by legislation currently pending before the U. S. Senate, while voluntary contractual obligations could not. "We want to make sure that any agreement between the county and a cable firm is an agreement under contract, not the imposition of the county's mandate," Rossi said.
Under the document released yesterday, Fairfax County "encourages" all cable applicants to propose systems that include at least 50 two-way video channels and to provide funding commitments for the operation of one or more public access channels.
It asks for information on cable stock owned by county officials and employes, and requests that cable applicants submit financial data that would allow county officials to evaluate their ability to spend up to $156 million wiring Fairfax.