Time now for a news update on cable television for the District of Columbia: "Let' Make a Deal" has been replaced by "Jeopardy." If cable for the entire city can't be delivered by the franchise-holder on the terms just set by the D.C. Council, forget it. Wait long enough and a discount satellite-dish dealer may come along and start selling half-price saucers for every rooftop. The technology is changing. So much for ultimatums and poor-mouthings from the firm that won the bid for cable and keeps seeking concessions from the city. The council has drawn the lines as fairly as it could.
If District Cablevision Inc. and the big-money firm behind it -- Tele-Communications Inc. -- don't like what they see in the temporary legislation enacted Tuesday, so be it. They can pay damages for all that time and trouble and then quit. Otherwise, the latest terms for doing business can be and should be met. They begin with a 90-day deadline, because that is when the "emergency" legislation expires. Modifications included in the measure would 1) allow DCI to reduce the number of residential channels from 78 to 54, which should be plenty at least for starters; 2) eliminate some of the firm's financial commitments to municipal or public-access programming and 3) revise its schedule of payments to the city.
Those are acceptable modifications of the sort that other cities had to learn the hard way. More important is the D.C. Council's requirement that DCI supply a firm construction schedule detailing neighborhood-by-neighborhood wiring plans for the whole city. DCI must also produce by Sept. 1 legally binding agreements with TCI and the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., which has a contract to build, maintain and own the cable lines.
DCI and TCI still are seeking some type of escape clause to allow further modifications if the system isn't a financial success. But that's not the city government's responsibility. No more concessions: the decision is DCI's, and so are the consequences. The city government and the television viewers in the city can survive until some other company -- with dishes or wires -- comes up with a better offer.