On time and after exhaustive study, the D.C. Council has given its official go-ahead to a cable television franchise for the city -- and its decision is a good one on several counts. Not only did the agreement made with District Cablevision come only after tough testing and review by every member of the council, but it also represents a more modest, realistic -- and achievable -- understanding of municipal cable television franchising than those that have bogged down or collapsed in so many other cities. Clearly the city's elected officials kept those failures in mind in negotiating this award. Yet they did insist on performance commitments -- on schedule and with reasonable services and access for the public.

It's still not clear-channels for the winner, though; one of the losing bidders, Capital City Cable, has filed an antitrust suit in U.S. District Court alleging that District Cablevision and the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. illegally conspired to win the franchise. Nothing we have seen so far indicates any such thing; on the contrary, C&P offered its services to all bidders, and D.C. Cablevision made open overtures to competitors to reach agreement on any relationship that all might have jointly or individually with C&P. It's important to note, too, that the phone company is not a partner in the actual cable franchise; it is signed up to do a contract job, which is to construct the cable transport lines. In any event, this aspect is still subject to review and approval by the Federal Communications Commission.

The only serious threat now would be costly delays resulting from the lawsuit. D.C. Cablevision officials as well as city leaders are hoping for a prompt and favorable review by the court. Given the intricate procedures that the city followed in awarding the franchise, judicial review should not have to take long. If that proves to be the case, construction could begin as called for in 1985, with some homes in every section of the city wired to go in early 1986. Any bending of that deadline would be a severe blow.