D.C. City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), chairman of the committee on public services and cable television, said yesterday the council probably will approve a proposed 60-channel cable television system with few changes from a design submitted last week by the D.C. Cable TV Design Commission.
"At this point, I do not anticipate any major changes at all," Kane said at a press conference at which the design commission officially presented the proposal. She noted that hearings would be held on the proposed guidelines in September, and said the council hopes to approve the plan by early fall so the commission can then put it out for bids.
Council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) also praised the proposal, saying it reflects many of the council's concerns about responsiveness to the community.
The guidelines, technically a "request for proposals" that cable TV franchisers would have to follow in submitting bids to operate the system, call for D.C. residents to get a minimum of 60 channels of programming plus the potential for two-way communications with hospitals, schools, banks and businesses.
Businesses, institutions and government agencies would get a minimum of 25 channels on a separate institutional network on which they would conduct business and exchange information.
The cost to build the District's system is expected to be high--between $100 million and $150 million--because so much of the cable has to be put underground. But Kane said yesterday she did not think this cost or any of the requirements in the design proposal would keep bidders away.
"This draft . . . represents what I think is a just and reasonable presentation of what the District is asking in return for granting a franchise for a cable system," Kane said. "I am convinced that the document presented to us today achieves the objective of promoting substantial benefits to the city and its residents without creating disincentives to potential applicants."
The plan includes requirements that a certain number of the channels be set aside for municipal uses and for individuals or community groups to put on their own programming, and that some channels be available for lease. The franchiser would have provide at least four studios for the public to use to produce the programs they want to put on the air, and bids would be expected to include grants to help support public-benefit programming.
The system would have to be completed within five years after the award is made--expected to happen some time next year--and the franchiser would have to have some part of each ward in the city wired by a certain time so that those getting the system first would not be decided on the basis of income or race.
The franchiser would have to have 35 percent minority participation in both ownership and representation on the company's governing body.
The franchise fee was set at 5 percent of the gross receipts of the system, and all bidders have to pay $10,000 up front to apply.
William P. Lightfoot, chairman of the design commission, said that while the city may not get a large number of bids on the system, the companies that have shown an interest so far would be expected to make quality applications.
The design commission now is conducting an ownership study, to be completed in August, to see if such alternatives as municipal ownership or a joint venture should be considered. Kane said her committee currently is not considering any ownership alternatives.