After checking all channels on the city government's crystal ball, we're not sure which will be seen first by Washington's television viewers --cable TV or the turn of the century. From the looks of a D.C. Council committee meeting the other evening, hell could freeze over (Film at 11!) before the local government and any potential cable operators ever get an act together. This needn't be, and shouldn't be. If there is any advantage to being slow to move, it is that the District can profit from mistakes made elsewhere--and settle on reasonable franchise requirements that would be attractive to investors as well as in the public interest.

It may be wonderful to include, for example, all sorts of technical requirements for a cable system. But if operators can't or won't meet these requirements without charging the highest rates in any city, where does that leave the public interest? As one cable official pointed out to the council committee, operators--and, in turn, the subscribers--may find it prohibitively expensive to have two-way capabilities from the start, service for hospitals and schools, public-access studios and mobile vans--all of which are among requirements proposed by the D.C. Cable TV Design Commission.

There is one requirement, though, that some cable operators oppose but that should be kept: it calls for only one cable franchise in the District, with the capability to serve all city residents. If cable operators were allowed to serve only certain sections of the city, some neighborhoods could be ignored entirely in favor of others with high-income families.

When full-scale cable TV does come to the District, it should be for all of the District. And it should be sooner, not later, which means tempering those requirements that cannot be met reasonably by cable operators who otherwise are ready, able and eligible to make things happen.