TODAY'S NEW MOVIES may be golden oldies by the time cable television enters a household in this city. But at least now the D.C. Council finally has uncrossed its legislative wires long enough to approve a bill that will begin to get the process going in earnest. Though this legislation may not constitute the perfect guide to trouble-free cable service, it no longer contains some of the unrealistic provisions originally embraced by committee drafts.
Best guesses now put cable service about two years away. But at the rate the council has moved on this matter in the past, by the time all of Washington is wired, cable TV itself may be as quaint as a crystal set--replaced by satellite dishes or some entirely new communications system. If there is any consolation in the slow pace, it is that the tardy may be able to avoid the mistakes of the pioneers.
One example of how the city has learned from other areas is a provision specifically discouraging a cable industry practice of enlisting local supporters for a franchise applicant through gifts or other "financial inducements"--known in the trade as "rent-a-citizen" efforts. Also, some loose language in the draft that would have permitted the city to take over as many channels as it deemed necessary--for "fair market value," whatever that might be--was corrected to guarantee municipal channels without leaving an entire private franchise in jeopardy.
Another set of unrealistic standards included by the committee but altered to reflect reality (and better sense) had called for the winning cable compnay to have a 70 percent minority work force, equal to the population ratio in the District, within two years, and for 51 percent of the employees to live in the District. Instead, the provisions now conform to existing city laws strongly encouraging minority hiring but not setting numerical quotas. The reference to residency now refers to the 51 percent "insofar as practicable."
With the mayor's approval and no motion of disapproval from Congress, a cable commission established by the bill can be organized to set forth specifics of development, design and regulation of the local cable system. Again, with examples of other experiences to go by, the District's efforts should not have to take forever.