Engineers for the locally owned firm that won the Loudoun County cable franchise last week were out testing reception sites the day after the contract award. At a site near Northern Virginia Community College on Rte. 7, it took them only 15 minutes to conduct the test.

But by the time they were ready to perform another test at a site in Sterling Park, so many people had been attracted by the trucks and equipment that it took 45 minutes to do the same test.

"Everybody wanted to know what was going on," said Harold Miller, an attorney for Cable Communications Corp. "The men had to keep stopping to answer questions and couldn't get on with the test."

Cable may not yet be ready for Loudoun County, but Loudoun is ready for cable.

In fact, Sterling Park may have cable in time for the Christmas specials, according to Miller. Although the exact location of the system's receiving station has not been decided, Miller said they expect to put it in Sterling and have service there in six to nine months.

It will take longer to bring the cables into Sugarland Run, Countryside, Broad Run Farms and the other housing developments in eastern Loudoun that CCC will service, but Miller said the firm expects the system to be finished within two years.

For the residents scattered among the hills and valleys of most of Loudoun County, however, it may be decades before cable arrives because the cost of laying cable skyrockets in sparsely settled areas.

While Leesburg awarded a franchise to Storer Cable Communications two years ago, the incorporated towns of Purcellville, Hamilton, Round Hill and Hillsboro apparently have waited to see which firm would win the county franchise before they make their own selections. Now that there are two cable companies in the county, competition for the franchises in those western towns could become the next battleground.

Residents will be able to buy CCC's basic service of 26 channels for $6.95 a month. The basic service will include eight Washington channels, four other local channels, WTBS of Atlanta, WGN of Chicago, the Learning Channel, Satellite Program Network, Cable Health Network, C-Span, ESPN, the Weather Channel, Cable News Network and a few local origination channels.

Five pay services, including Home Box Office, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, Showtime and The Disney Channel will be available for $8.95 a month each, or $7.50 a month each if a family wants more than one. The pay services can be bought along with the basic service.

For serious television viewers, CCC will offer a second tier of 10 additional channels for $2.95 more a month. They include USA Cable Network, CBN Cable Network, Dow Jones Cable News, Music Television, Black Entertainment Television, Nashville Network, Nickelodeon/ARTS, Cable News Network 2 and two other yet-to-be-determined channels.

Cable installation will cost $25 for each television set, and FM service will be available for $4.95.

The CCC system will include a device called the "addressable converter," an inner switch that will allow residents to order additional services, such as an extra movie channel, without having a serviceman come to their home.

The converter also will enable Loudoun residents to buy viewing rights for a single event, such as a prizefight. Although single events are not yet available for cable systems, industry analysts say they expect such events to be offered regularly in a few years.

CCC will install a separate institutional cable, with 21 channels available for local use.

After the system is completed, CCC will hold an internship program in conjunction with the community college for people interested in learning how to use the institutional channels.

Schools, libraries, police departments and county administration buildings will be linked to the system and portable cameras and a separate programming studio will be available for residents on a free, first-come, first-served basis.

After the first phase of the system is finished, CCC will start producing a Monday through Friday evening show called Loudoun County Local News. There also will be a program called Community Bulletin Board that will feature everything from school lunch listings to Little League schedules.

Loudoun is the last suburban county in Northern Virginia to award a cable franchise. Alexandria Cablevision offers 36 channels for $9 a month and Arlington Telecommunications Corp. offers 36 channels for $11.55 a month. Media General Cable of Fairfax County plans 63 channels for $2.95 a month.