After nearly 10 years of debate and consideration, Prince George's County residents finally will reap the benefits of cable television. Last month, the county council awarded the county's northern and southern cable franchises to Storer Cable Communications and MetroVision respectively, guaranteeing that nearly all Prince George's residents will have access to cable television. When the two systems are complete, all but the most rural areas of the county will have access to cable TV.
Like the awards made elsewhere around the country, Prince George's County's cable process was very competitive, full of lively debate. As the well- documented history of this "future shock" industry demonstrates, the competitive spirit often mars the franchise process with highly emotional and partisan statements fraught with controversy.
In anticipation of this, the county wrote specific procedures for awarding the franchises. These procedures were carefully drafted to ensure that only superior applications would be received by the county. With one or two exceptions, all the applications were clearly superior. This appraisal is borne out by the county's consultant in his assessments of the individual companies in both preliminary and final reports.
That all the applicants offered first- rate cable systems only made the ultimate decision more difficult, as the consultant continually pointed out. Given the negligible difference between the companies' financial and technical abilities, it was inevitable that the council would disagree with the recommendations of the Prince George's County Cable Television Commission. The council relied heavily on the consultant's technical expertise as well as on the commission's rigorous review. (The primary documents reviewed were the consultant's and commission's reports.)
South of Central Avenue, MetroVision will offer service to the homeowners in the southern part of the county, providing cable to any area with 25 or more homes per cable mile. Sixty-three channels will be offered initially, with a capacity of 112 channels. Five basic service choices are offered, ranging from $2.45 to $10.95 a month for 20 to 63 programmed channels. Both Baltimore and Washington TV stations will be carried, plus an array of educational, sports, news, children's, religious, senior-citizen and public-access channels for local community and government organizations. At-home banking and shopping will be available if the demand is sufficient, as well as home security, fire and medical protection. In addition, optional pay services such as Home Box Office, The Movie Channel, Showtime, Galavision, Premier and Cinemax will be offered at a cost ranging from $7.50 to $8.50 each. Rates are fixed and guaranteed for the first three years of service.
In the north, Storer's system will offer 63 channels initially, with an 82-channel capacity capable of expansion. The northern franchise will offer cable to nearly all homeowners not already served by municipal systems that were previously awarded by cities and towns. Four basic tiers will be offered, ranging from a universal tier offered for free to a 63-channel tier for $10.95 a month. Essentially the same educational, sports, news and other channels offered in the south will be available in the north, including security protection and at-home banking and shopping. For an additional $6.95 a month for each service, the full array of Home Box Office-type programs will be available, as well as a "pay- per-view" arrangement. Storer also guarantees its rates for four years--the longest of any of the applicants.
Depending on the range of services selected, installation charges will vary, although both companies are likely to offer free installation during the initial hook-up period.
In short, both franchises offer first- rate cable systems that will more than adequately live up to consumer expectations. In the final analysis, one thing remains certain: the companies selected are reputable and stable, with resources, know-how and the ability to provide the services they are offering.
On this the consultant and the council agree, as will county residents who subscribe to cable TV during the next decade.