The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. has made an initial offer to develop a cable television system in Washington, a move officials said yesterday could boost lagging efforts to bring cable to D.C. residents.
The phone company would use its technology to install and maintain the facilities, but would not get involved in direct ownership or programming for the proposed system, company officials said.
"We're interested in the concept of cable on the transmission side," said Delano Lewis, a C&P vice president. "It's all very much in the concept stage at this point."
Estimates of what it would cost to bring cable to the District have ranged up to $150 million for a basic system. The telephone company could significantly reduce those costs and construction time with its technology and existing equipment, experts said.
Local telephone companies like C&P will have more freedom to become involved with ventures like cable television when they become separate from the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. next year.
C&P made its proposal in a letter to the D.C. Cable Design Commission, which will recommend to the City Council how it should award any cable franchises. Phone company representatives met with the ownership and finance committee of the commission last month.
Liesel Flashenberg, a member of the ownership committee, said yesterday that the committee is continuing to look at a broad range of ownership possibilities, including part ownership by the city, before recommending a proposal to the full 28-member commission.
"The cable companies have not been beating down the doors here but the cable industry is not particularly hot to see phone companies involved. It may heat up the waters a little more here," said Flashenberg.
Flashenberg said the city plans to award the franchise to firms with strong minority participation. She said few of those firms actually have the financial ability to pay the huge construction costs without participating in a joint venture.
At least one firm that plans to bid on the District franchise has sought out the phone company for a possible joint venture. "They bring a lot to the table, both in terms of their equipment" and community involvement, said Robert Johnson, president of District Cablevision. C&P has indicated, however, that it is not considering a joint venture at this time.
The District, which passed its cable legislation last year, has lagged behind other area jurisdictions in bringing cable to residents.
The design commission, which is drafting a formal "request for proposals" that commercial firms will use as a guide in bidding for franchise rights here, was scheduled to finish the project by the end of this month. However, the council is expected to soon approve a 90-day extension sought by the commission.
Once the proposal is approved by the council, the commission members will review any bids that the city receives before the council makes its selection.