BY NOW MOST people have lost count of how many revised, modified, bobtailed and otherwise rejiggered cable franchise proposals have been submitted by the firm that won the initial bidding and was supposed to be wiring the city at this point. Again this week, in came the officials of District Cablevision, ready with yet another attempt to whittle still further their responsibilities as the authorized providers of cable television. Everything will be just fine, they said, if -- and here's the showstopper -- the council would just approve some additional modifications to the franchise agreement. And again, the effect would be to loosen a set commitment to wire the entire city on a hard and fast schedule.

No dice. If District Cablevision and its backers can't guarantee full delivery, forget it.

This time District Cablevision is seeking an open-ended provision that would allow it to alter its construction plan if the firm encounters major economic problems. Company officials have said that District Cablevision should not be required to wire the entire city if the plan proves economically unfeasible. But since when does a company get a deal that says it will do the job unless it can't do the job? Now that the city has agreed to a more realistic cable system anyway, why not find out whether some other firm can guarantee timely delivery?

Even the precise terms of the partnership that would exist between the major financial backers and District Cablevision do not seem to be nailed down. As of Tuesday, a partnership agreement had been negotiated but was unsigned. How can a city government be sure of anything now, given all these switching signals? The D.C. Council should make it clear to District Cablevision, to Tele-Communications Inc. and to anybody still interested in ever seeing cable television in Washington, that either the entire city is wired by a date certain or it's back through channels for another company.