DISTRICT USERS of telephone, cable television and Internet services may soon discover that their lives are much improved because of pipe and fiber-optic cable now being installed under city streets. Meanwhile, a growing number of motorists, pedestrians, taxi drivers and bicycle messengers are learning a more immediate and painful lesson: Upgrading telecommunications comes at a price.

Across the city, roads are being sliced open and dug up to accommodate underground cable. That work is tearing up car tires and axle assemblies, wearing down motorists and disrupting traffic for blocks. Even after the conduit is buried and the trench backfilled with dirt and covered with a thin layer of asphalt, the street can remain hazardous. Temporary patch jobs have been known to convert into sinkholes "large enough to swallow half a car tire," reports staff writer Lyndsey Layton. To make matters worse, the temporary patching is more vulnerable to those dreaded potholes that appear in cold weather, according to Gary Burch, the city's chief engineer.

What is difficult to understand is the failure of city public works officials to set limits on the time telecommunications companies were given to complete repairs to streets they had dug up. Recognizing that shortcoming, the city has announced a plan to tighten the timetable for cable installation and street repairs and to better coordinate road work between the city and the utility companies. Mr. Burch also told The Post that motorists suffering car damage because of utility work can either file a claim with the contractor or notify the mayor's office. Closer scrutiny of utility work by city public works officials might also help.

Even with these major inconveniences--plus the possibility of another winter of monster potholes--the District should welcome the investments of the communications industry. A city lacking in economic vitality would not attract such attention. The utility work is unavoidable. In the long run, however, the city gains from this pain.