Charles (Bud) Snyder reads the papers every day and he still does not understand all the fuss about cable television.
"My son has cable in St. Charles, and for what he gets for $17 a month, who needs it?" said Snyder, a retired government employe now living in the rural southern end of Prince George's. Besides, Snyder added later, "My personal feelings are it's a political football and the guy who pays off the most politicians is going to get it, and down here in the south county we're used to being treated like second cousins, so who cares?"
That seems to sum up much of the sentiment in southern Prince George's, particularly in that western slice of county where sparse suburban tracts nestle unobtrusively among forest land, pumpkin farms and fields of tobacco. The rest of the county will be watching eagerly today as the County Council awards two coveted cable franchises. But those deliberations will be less gripping for communities such as Croom, Nottingham, Aquasco, and Eagle Harbor, which probably will not be served no matter who wins the franchise today, at least not for the first few years.
These areas were not included in the primary service area that most companies have promised to service within 24 months, nor are they within the extended areas a few companies say they can cover in three years. Service to these outlying communities will depend on factors such as population growth and the number of neighbors willing to sign up for cable at higher rates than the rest of the county.
Thus, while many of that area's residents are ambivalent about cable service, others have revived the old debate about whether urban Prince Georgians really care about the needs of their rural counterparts.
"There's a lot of feeling that this end of the county always gets the short end," said Del. William F. McCaffrey, who represents the sprawling 28th Legislative District, and is among those who want cable. Last Thursday night, McCaffrey appeared at the hearing on the southern franchise to air that concern. Of the 91 people who signed up to testify that night, only a half dozen lived in the far southern areas. Only one, Russell Watson of Croom, lived close to the county's outskirts and Watson spoke for a company in which he has invested.
"Cable TV is a priority of some and not a priority of others," said McCaffrey. "There's a lot of concerns other than cable TV. But it could become an issue to them when they find out they can't get it."
"We are as rural as you can get in Prince George's County," said Elizabeth Proctor, a Cedarville resident and school employe. "We have a substantial number of poverty pockets, there is no transportation, no nothing; we need the culture and stimulation of cable."
"It seems like the city people are the only ones that have the rights," said Clinton resident Bill Sorrell, whose area probably will receive cable in two or three years. "I tell you, we would like to have it, and it seems to me we pay the same taxes as everyone else, but we don't look for it for the next 10 years -- 'til we get a bunch of aristocrats down here . . . "
The primary reason for delay is population density. The southwest part of the county is sparsely settled, with fewer than 15,000 people living in the area bounded by the Prince George's border, Rte. 301 and Pennsylvania Avenue. While that is the very quality that led many present residents to move there, the distance between homes means higher costs to interconnect with cable facilities. For the same reason, residents now pay an extra fee for telephone service to Washington.
The cable commission's primary service area wraps around the beltway and snakes out to Upper Marlboro, Clinton and Fort Washington. In an effort to make their proposals more attractive, a number of companies offered to wire some communities beyond the primary area in two to three years and for the same rate. That extended service depends in most cases on growth in population and on the level of citizen demand for the service.
If too many citizens share the attitude of Harriet Hunter, however, cable won't be seen in some areas for quite a while.
"To tell you the truth, I go more for radio or books," said Hunter, who lives in Eagle Harbor. "I'm not much for television, so unless cable is a big improvement over what we have now, I'm not really that upset about it."