A municipality's decision to award a cable franchise, usually after months of bitter, highly politicized debate and generally lengthy consulting studies, is just the beginning of wiring a community.
After the city council or appropriate board has awarded the franchise, wiring equipment, studio materials and a satellite dish must be ordered before the complex construction can get under way.
Next, the cable company goes about building the system, a highly complex venture that in a major city or country costs at least $100 million. Some companies start by building or leasing their studio space.
In a small town, the cable system builders, with their trucks and workers, stand out when they come to town. In a large county or city, the installation work is less noticeable.
Starting with a "strand map," which outlines the location of every utility pole in an area, the operator can either install the cable on overhead wires attached to telephone poles or underground, if required by the community.Power and phone lines must be kept about a half an inch apart from the cable. It can cost as much as $10,000 a mile to construct the system on overhead wires and at least three times that underground.
Large cable companies often bring their own crews from other cities to handle the construction, although many jurisdictions have encouraged local and/or minority firms to become active in the construction, which involves hundreds of workers.
Generally, a municipality will insist in its cable television ordinance that a certain portion of the system be operating within about a year of the franchise award.
But many companies will begin marketing almost immediately after winning the franchise. That can mean extensive newspaper advertising, direct mail solicitation, flyers and door-to-door sales, in a massive campaign to tell consumers exactly what the system can offer and how much it will cost.
Most likely, the cable operator will begin offering service to a portion of the community as soon as enough homes have signed up to make it worthwhile. Those first sales are important because word of mouth is generally an important selling tool.
Installation of cable is not unlike installation of a telephone. The firm's workers visit homes and attach a cord to cable line from a telephone pole or underground hook-up. A channel selector box for the cable is also attached to television sets in the home. Installation generally costs about $15 to $25, although the introduction of complex services such as fire and burglar protection raise the installation cost.
Payment for the box, which is rarely owned by the subscriber, is included in the monthly cable bill. The bill looks something like a monthly telephone bill, although it might break out the cost of a particular one-time pay service, such as a championship prize fight.Increasingly, these bills come from centralized computer banks.
As a rule, condiminium or cooperative tenant boards decide whether to attach the building or complex to the cable system, although in most places the decision is made by the building's owner or manager.
Rates for basic cable service can run as high as $25 a month, although optional pay television services and additional such as burglar alarm systems and pay-perview shows, such as major sporting events, cost extra. In most jurisdictions, rates are set for about four years under the franchise agreement.