While it may be years before the District gets wired up for cable television service, in Northern Virginia, where the Washington area's cable boom started more than a decade ago, cable companies are flourishing.
Of course, that doesn't mean that cable is available for every Northern Virginian who wants to tune in his Sony Trinitron to a soccer match at 3 a.m.
What it does mean, however, is that residents of many selected jurisdictions, including Alexandria, Reston, Arlington and Dale City, can get between 12 and 38 channels of cable television at rates that range to upwards of $30 monthly.
At the same time, a number of other local jurisdictions, most notably Fairfax and Loudoun counties, are actively moving towards having cable service within the next several years.
Following is a comparative listing of cable television services offered in Northern Virginia: Alexandria
Alexandria Cablevision is currently delivering 36 channels of service to approximately 17,000 subscribers in Alexandria. Its basic service, which costs $9 monthly, includes: Washington and Baltimore television stations; ESPN, the cable sports network; WTBS from Atlanta; Cable News Network; C-SPAN, which offers coverage of Congress; MTV, a video jukebox service; the Nickelodeon/A.R.T.S. channel, which combines children's programming with arts shows; a local access channel; a weather and stock exchange channel; a religious channel and a headline service.
For another $9.95, a subscriber can purchase Home Box Office, Cinemax or Showtime. All three pay channels plus basic service costs $30.95.
Installation costs approximately $20, with another $15 charged for every additional outlet. Arlington
Arlington Telecommunications Corp., also known as Artec, is offering 36 channels of television service to 24,000 subscribers in Arlington. Its basic service, which costs $11.55 monthly, includes Washington and Baltimore stations; ESPN; WTBS; Cable News Network; C-SPAN; the Health Channel; the Weather Channel, which offers national weather updates 24 hours a day; a religious channel; a local access channel; Channel 32 from Howard University; and a Spanish language channel.
Artec's additional services include: Home Box Office, at $10.95 a month; Cinemax, at $9.95 a month; and the Playboy channel, which offers R-rated movies, at $7.95 a month. All three are available only to subscribers who are already receiving basic service.
Installation in Arlington costs $39.95, with another $15 charged for each additional outlet. Fairfax
Media General Cable of Fairfax County Inc., a subsidiary of the company that owns both daily newspapers in Richmond, last fall was awarded a potentially lucrative 15-year contract to provide cable service to Fairfax County.
Although the company says it will begin construction on the cable system in April and expects to begin operating by this fall, several major hurdles still lie ahead. Fairfax Telecommunications Inc. has sued to overturn the franchise award, arguing that Fairfax officials conspired with Media General to allow the Richmond firm extra time to complete its franchise application.
Media General is also facing a challenge from Warner Amex Cable Communications of Reston, a company that had expressed strong interest in the Fairfax franchise but dropped out of the competition amid complaints about stringent county cable requirements. Warner Amex has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission seeking to block Media General from wiring the county until the Fairfax Telecommunications lawsuit is resolved.
Media General had promised to string cable that could provide two-way service to most of the county within 3 1/2 years. Subscribers could receive 63 channels for $2.95 a month, with access to two movie channels for an extra $7.95 each, or they could pay $10.95 for 126 channels with access to more pay stations. Reston
Warner Amex Cable Communications of Reston, a subsidiary of national communications giant Warner Amex Cable Communications, is currently providing 28 channels of service to 8,500 subscribers within Reston.
The company's future operations there are in question, however, because Fairfax County law requires that unfranchised cable systems must shut down after the county's franchise has been awarded. Warner Amex does not hold a government franchise for Reston, although it has been operating for more than 12 years under the terms of contracts it signed with the community's developers.
Presently, the system's basic service costs $9.95 a month, and includes Washington and Baltimore channels; a local access channel; Atlanta's WTBS; Cable Health Network; two headline services; Manassas religious channel WTKK; and Howard University's Channel 32.
For another $5.95 a month, customers can subscribe to ESPN; video jukebox service MTV; USA Network; Cable News Network; Modern Satellite Network; C-SPAN; and Nickelodeon/A.R.T.S.
Home Box Office and the Movie Channel can also be purchased for $9.95 each, in addition to the cost of basic service.
Installation costs $15 to $25, with another $15 charged for every additional outlet. Fort Belvoir
Storer Cable Communications Inc. offers 36 channels of service to about 1,800 subscribers at Fort Belvoir. Basic service costs $7.75, and includes: Washington and Baltimore channels, USA Network; WTBS; Cable News Network; ESPN; and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Home Box Office, Showtime, the Movie Channel and Spotlight are available for an additional $9.95 a month each. Loudoun County
Two cable companies, Storer Cable Communications and Cable Communications Corporation, are competing for a potentially lucrative franchise in Loudoun, and officials there are hoping to make a decision by the end of the month.
Storer is already operating a 39-channel system in Leesburg, where it serves approximately 1,500 subscribers. That system's basic service costs $7 a month and includes: Washington and Baltimore stations; the USA Network; WTBS; Cable News Network; ESPN; Modern Satellite Network; Satellite Programming Network; the Health Network; Christian Broadcasting Network; a local access channel; and the video jukebox service MTV.
Also offered are five additional pay channels: Home Box Office, Spotlight, Showtime, the Movie Channel and Cinemax. Each costs $8.50 a month in addition to the cost of basic service, with discounts offered to customers who subscribe to more than one of the pay channels.
Installation costs $25, with another $15 charged for additional outlets. Prince William
In Dale City, Woodbridge and Montclair, service is provided by Cable Television Inc., owned by prominent county developer Cecil Hylton. CTI transmits 12 channels of service to some 13,000 subscribers there.
For $5.50 monthly, subscribers receive Washington area channels; ESPN; WTBS; a religious channel and Channel 32.
Home Box Office is also available for an additional $9.95 a month.
The company's service will expand next month to 30 channels, including Cinemax, the Movie Channel, USA Network and Nickelodeon. Subscription rates for the new services have not yet been released.
In Dumfries, Triangle and Quantico, service is provided by another company, Triangle Cable. Triangle Cable transmits 18 stations to approximately 2,000 subscribers in those three communities and on the Quantico Marine Corps base. Triangle's basic service, which costs $5.95 a month, includes Washington stations, a Richmond station, a Baltimore station and WTKK.
For $4 more a month, subscribers can receive ESPN; Nickelodeon; USA Network; WTBS; Cable News Network; and the Health Channel. Basic subscribers can also receive Home Box Office for a monthly fee of $9.50.
Installation costs range between $10 and $40, with each additional outlet costing $25.