Let's face it. After months of hearing about preparations, debates and negotiations over a cable television, District residents still have only one question -- "When?"

As in, "When do I get it?"

There was no answer to that question in the 102-page document of promises, concessions and ultimatums released last week following nearly three months of negotiations between representatives from the city and District Cablevision Inc., the firm favored to win the city's 15-year cable franchise.

Instead, representatives from the negotiating team interpreted the document to mean that there would be cable in some District homes by early 1986 if the City Council awards the franchise soon.

Residents who want to make their own predictions on when they can tune into Home Box Office or view City Council and School Board meetings at home should keep their eyes on three groups -- the City Council, the District Cablevision shareholders and the losing cable bidders.

Nothing can or will happen until the City Council awards the franchise. Indications are that the council will act quickly, largely due to incentives provided by federal legislation and the negotiating team.

Under a new federal law, the city would be allowed to receive an annual franchise fee plus any added benefits, such as money for public access channels, from the cable firm as long as the city has granted a franchise within 60 days after the effective date of the federal legislation. That means the council would have to act in December.

For any council members who may have doubts about whether District Cablevision can deliver on its promises, the proposed agreement also requires the cable company to set up a $2 million security fund that the city could draw down if the cable firm violates portions of the agreement.

The District Cablevision shareholders also need watching. The question is whether the group can raise $33 million to help finance the franchise. During negotiations with the city, District Cablevision won delays in implementing some aspects of the proposed system so that the company could reduce start-up costs and look more attractive in the investment market. In the negotiated agreement, Distict Cablevision has a year to secure funding or the agreement would be automatically terminated.

Finally, the pace for the final franchising process may depend on actions taken by Capital City Cable and District Telecommunications Development Corp., the losing firms in the cable competition.

From the beginning, city officials predicted that the franchising process would be plagued by lawsuits. But there has been no legal action and spokesmen for the two companies will not say whether they have ruled out lawsuits.

Instead, both companies filed objections to the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company's request for permission from the Federal Communications Commission to construct the cable transport lines for District Cablevision. Until the FCC rules,that crucial aspect of the cable proposal remains in doubt.