The executive director of the city's cable television office told a D.C. City Council committee yesterday that the city has no official information to indicate why the firm that was awarded the franchise has not signed a formal agreement.
Last week, a District Cablevision Inc. official said that the firm would ratify the agreement if the city granted concessions relieving the firm of some of its financial liabilites. District Cablevision lawyers maintain that a lawsuit filed against the company by a competitor has made it difficult to raise money to build the proposed $130-million cable system.
Yesterday, Richard Maulsby, director of the cable office, told the council's cable committee he had notified the firm that it must sign the agreement by March 12 or the agreement will automatically be canceled.
If that happens, Maulsby said, he would recommend that the city seek new bids.
But City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who attended the briefing, questioned whether the city needs cable service.
"Why go ahead with cable at all?" asked Clarke, who said that alternative technologies might make cable television obsolete by the time the District is wired.
"Are we not building a transcontinental railroad in the 20th century?" the chairman asked.
Maulsby responded by saying that no other technologies can provide the services offered by cable.
And council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), chairman of the cable committee, said that the council explored the questions Clarke raised two years ago.
Following the meeting, Clarke acknowledged that the council awarded a cable franchise because District residents want the service. He also said that he has no plans to recommend against it, even if District Cablevision fails to sign the agreement.
While Clarke's colleagues seemed somewhat surprised by his questions, Clarke said he did not intend to shock anyone. "It [the statement] is not a bomb. I'm not trying to threaten," he said.