City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2) said yesterday that District Cablevision Inc.'s promise to build a cable television system here is "a raw deal" and called for the City Council to reopen the cable bidding process.
"Washington residents want cable now, not some time in the distant future," Wilson said. "With the modifications that DCI now requests, the original cable franchise agreement is almost unrecognizable and should be considered null and void."
Robert L. Johnson, president of District Cablevision, said yesterday through a spokeswoman that his company had no response to criticism from council members.
Wilson was one of several members who expressed concerns about District Cablevision's request for franchise modifications that go beyond the concessions the council provisionally approved in July. The council members particularly opposed a proposed modification that would allow the cable firm to seek future relief if it encountered major financial problems.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke said that District Cablevision has had ample time to determine what problems it might encounter, and it should not be allowed to petition the council for future concessions based on problems the company should have foreseen.
"As long as I'm here it is going to be a fruitless petition as far as my vote is concerned," Clarke said. "If they come in now and tell me that they can do it, I expect them to do it. If they can see a problem now they should not come later and say something changed. They should plan for it."
Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), a member of the council's cable television committee, said she is opposed to any measures that would make it "less painful" for District Cablevision to seek future concessions.
The City Council approved temporary modifications, worth millions of dollars, to its franchise agreement in July after District Cablevision said it needed the concessions to obtain the necessary financing for the system.
In documents submitted to the council Tuesday, District Cablevision indicated that the firm had arranged to raise $45 million in cash and loans by forming a limited partnership with a subsidiary of Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's largest cable operator.
In addition, the company provided a construction schedule for wiring the entire city by 1990, with construction beginning in six of the city's eight wards in 1986. Construction would not begin in Wards 2 and 3 until 1987 and Ward 2 would be the only ward not completely wired within four years.
Wilson, who represents Ward 2, which includes a major part of Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and Southwest and downtown Washington, said that his "gravest concern" rests with the wiring schedule.
"Members of this council were promised and insisted upon simultaneous wiring of the city to forestall any allegations of favoritism and partiality in the wiring schedule," said Wilson. "The most recent installation schedule proposed by DCI makes a mockery of this promise."
Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), Northwest Washington district would not begin to receive cable until 1987, said she, too, is disappointed by the construction schedule.
"We the City Council have got to figure out how much we want cable," Shackleton said. "Frankly, I don't know whether it's worth it. As the years go by something better may come along."