Cable television is coming to Montgomery County. After several years of studies by consultants, staff studies and public hearings, the county finally has the service on a schedule that should hook up its first customers in late summer 1983, with service available to the populated areas of the county by 1985. Detailed proposals for providing service, complete with proposed rates, are due from interested companies on Jan. 27. Final selection among the applicants is expected to be made by the county executive July 1, with review and approval by the county council by September.
Montgomery County tried to learn from successes and failures in other jurisdictions. In some communities, there have been charges and counter- charges about political favoritism. Also, some franchises have proven far from capable of supplying the service they contracted to provide, while others have been excessively slow in providing service. Still other franchises have escalated their rates rapidly. We hope to avoid all these disappointments and to secure a franchise able to deliver on its promises and keep rates well under control.
Because the franchise is potentially of considerable value, and bidding among a number of prospective cable TV companies is expected to be intense, a good deal of thought and effort have gone into assuring prospective bidders, as well as the public, that the process will be completely open, fair and impartial. The objective must be to provide the best possible service--or array of services--to potential customers at the best possible price. Considerable study and analysis, with help from an expert consultant and a cable television advisory committee of knowledgeable citizens, have gone into developing a detailed set of criteria and a system for weighing standards by which applicants will be judged. Among the criteria weighed are the capability and experience of the franchise, the programming services offered, rates and charges, and construction and service schedules.
The consultant, the advisory committee and staff will evaluate the franchise applications. In addition, a three-member panel of examiners will review the evaluations to ensure that the county executive will be choosing only from among the best of the applications. Finally, the council will accept public views and review the process by which the county executive makes his decision.
All of this is designed to ensure that the company providing the service will come with the highest credentials and firmest expectations of reliability, as well as with dedication to public service rather than quick profits. At the end of this long and arduous path, we expect to get top-notch public service at reasonable rates, rather than a financial plum obtained by the exertion of hidden or improper pressures, as has happened in some jurisdictions. The county council and executive have carried this principle so far that they have refused to engage in discussions with any of the potential applications except in public sessions.
We have also been able to profit from the rapid advances in technology that have occurred in the period since cable TV was first proposed for Montgomery County. Based on recent experience elsewhere, we expect that the franchises will offer at least 100 channels with a wide variety of services. This will provide improved reception for all VHF and UHF channels available in the Washington area and nearby cities. Public service channels will be made available without charge to public agencies such as the schools and the county government and to citizens who want to present arguments on public issues. The system is also expected to provide (at a small additional charge to subscribers) a two-way or feedback system by which viewers can vote on issues being discussed at a forum or debate, or secure such services as banking or delivery of merchandise. Other channels will include continuous news broadcasts, sports events and a selection of movies. Extra-charge services may also include security monitoring for protection against burglary and fire.
With such a cable system, subscribers in the county will be able to view programs for information, education or entertainment of their choice, when they choose. There will be access to programming of strictly local interest, such as meetings of local government bodies, school functions and amateur and school sports. The rich diversity of our community--in language, interests, tastes and needs--will be reflected in one of the finest cable TV services in the country.