The Montgomery County NAACP wants part of the county's cable television system to be owned by a minority firm in a multiple-franchise arrangement that would enable minorities to "compete . . . and to increase their opportunities for reaping economic advancement."
In a letter to Montgomery County Council President Ruth Spector and at a press conference in front of the council chambers Tuesday morning, NAACP President Roscoe Nix said the current plan to offer only one franchise for the entire county prevents such opportunities. He also criticized a consultant's report that gave no weight to the issue of franchise ownership.
Nix said, "That a consultant could give zero weight to ownership when the minority population of the county is near 25 percent is to show that the consultant is willing to give the green light to monopoly ownership and ignore minority interest."
But informed observers strongly questioned whether the county, which already has been bogged down in considerable delays over the proposed multimillion-dollar system, would seriously consider changing the decision, made early this year, that a one-franchise operation would provide the best service for the county.
"You'd have to cut up the pie differently. There may be less services available if there were more franchises, and some companies might decide that servicing a smaller portion might not be economically feasible and might drop out of competing for the franchise altogether," said Assistant County Attorney Kathy Hart.
In arguing for a multiple-franchise arangement, Frank Morris, a former vice-president of the Montgomery NAACP, argued that the county's system, which may eventually serve 216,175 homes, will be unusually large for only one firm and that "most companies have not built systems larger than 50,000 units."
But John Hansman, the county's cable television manager, used a similar argument to suggest the opposite was the case. He said most major cable firms now have the experience and capital to handle a job as large as Montgomery. Hansman also argued that service would suffer under the NAACP's proposed four-franchise arrangement.
"Four franchises would mean areas involving roughly 50,000 households," Hansman said, citing the statement of one cable firm that argued that its "threshold for a full-scale system would have to be at least 75,000."
The issue of minority involvement in the lucrative cable network already has been raised, particularly by Hispanic groups pushing for minority hiring and access to Hispanic programming.
Citing minority firms that own cable systems in Columbus and East Cleveland, Ohio, in Newark, and in east Lost Angeles, Nix said the NAACP would "aggressively seek" the support of other minorities for its plan, and would find minority firms that might be interested in applying for a Montgomery County contract.
"We want and will have a piece of the action," said NAACP vice-president Gladys Young. "Minority involvement on every level will be the order of the day."