D.C. residents would get a cable television system with at least 60 channels of programming plus two-way communications with institutions such as hospitals and schools and future capability to bank, shop and vote from home, under a proposal submitted last week to the D.C. City Council.
The D.C. Cable TV Design Commission on Wednesday adopted minimum requirements for cable operators to follow in making applications for the District's first 15-year cable TV franchise, and the guidelines were sent to the City Council on Friday for consideration.
The specific programs and services of the system will be determined by what the winning bidder offers.
Among the key decisions the commission made in drafting the guidelines was that there would be only one franchise citywide rather than two or more, each having a section of the District.
The commission also established a goal of 35 percent minority ownership and representation on the governing body of the business operating the system. While less than 35 percent would not automatically disqualify a bidder, the criteria for evaluating the proposals give much weight to minority participation as well as to affirmative action plans.
The cable system is still years away in the District, while some parts of the suburbs have had cable television for years. But the city will have a more sophisticated system in return for the wait, according to design officials.
"This will have futuristic capabilities," said William P. Lightfoot, chairman of the design commission. "We'll have a more advanced system than they have in the suburbs."
Some of the possible uses will be banking and shopping at home, electronic mail, hospital monitoring of a person's vital signs while they sleep at home, energy conservation techniques, utility meter reading and opinion polling, he said. Ultimately, D.C. residents may be able to vote in elections from home through the cable system.
A recently signed cable TV contract for Montgomery County calls for this type of two-way communication system, but most suburban areas have only one-way programming coming into the home. Those systems could be modified in the future for two-way communication, however.
The cost of basic cable service to residents, with only one or two special channels, is expected to be low, perhaps $2 or $2.50 a month, said Lightfoot. But various levels of programming and services will be offered, and the cost for everything available on the system could be in the range of $45 to $55 a month, he said.
An optimistic schedule for the D.C. system envisions a small number of homes having cable by late 1984 and the entire city being wired by 1989. First, the City Council must approve the guidelines, called a "request for proposals." Then operators would be invited to make bids.
While there are hundreds of cable TV operators in the country, large cities have been getting only a handful of bids from potential franchise operators.
Lightfoot said it is unlikely that the District will get more than a few bids, both because of the cost and because many cable operators have overextended themselves in other areas already.
After an operator is selected--probably more than a year from now--it has to complete the system in five years.
An earlier draft proposal would have required the franchiser to contribute at least $250,000 a year the first three years and $450,000 a year after that for public-benefit support, such as helping nonprofit groups produce educational programs.
That requirement was eliminated in the guidelines that went to the City Council. Cable commission consultant Sylvia J. Potts said, however, that this area is one of great competition among cable system operators and they would be expected to offer higher levels of support than originally mandated.
The system operator would have to pay a 5 percent gross receipts tax, and this could bring in millions of dollars a year to the city, depending on how well the system does.
The system would have the capability to interconnect with other cable television systems in Virginia and Maryland and with any federal government communications system. The terms of interconnection likely will be an area of study and political discussion in the region and probably will not occur for some time, Lightfoot said.
The system operator would have to guarantee that the initial rate for basic service will stay the same for at least three years. It would have to provide free municipal and public-use channels, and it would have to link up government agencies, nonprofit educational institutions, libraries, hospitals and community centers to the system free of charge.
The District's system will be particularly costly to build, perhaps $150 million, because about 47 percent of the cable will have to be underground. At its meeting on Wednesday the design commission took note of the fact that C&P Telephone is interested in getting involved in wiring the city but did not make any requirement or recommendation on telephone company participation.