Board Backs Cable Firm's Latest Plea for Time

Times Staff Writer

United Cable Television of Los Angeles Friday won the backing of an influential city commission for a third extension--until June 30, 1988--to complete installation of a cable-TV system in the East San Fernando Valley.

But the Board of Telecommunications Commissioners was forced to delay a decision until next Friday on whether to fine United $186,200 for delays in installing the system. The 2-1 vote, with two members absent, fell short of the three affirmative votes required for a decision.

The firm is technically liable for more fines for later deadlines missed.

United originally was to complete installation of the 1,140-mile system last December. It received two 10-month extensions, pushing the completion date back until July 31, 1987.

12 Homes Served Now

The company has installed 122 miles of cable, giving it the potential to serve 15,000 of the 176,000 homes in the East Valley. United this week began providing service to the first of 2,500 homes in Pacoima, Mission Hills and Sylmar that the firm's marketing director, Margaret Duburow, said are expected to be hooked up by the end of the month.

Council's OK Needed

The extension, which is subject to City Council approval, was recommended to the board by Susan Herman, general manager of the Department of Telecommunications, which regulates cable TV.

"The public is entitled to a reasonable expectation of when they can get service," she said.

But Commissioner Ira T. Distenfield added, "We have no other choice but to say yes happily or to say yes with a frown."

United holds exclusive rights to providing cable service to the East Valley. Although a recent court decision opened up areas to competition among cable firms, city officials consider it unlikely that another company, starting out now, would be able to build any faster than United because of the time required to design a system and get the necessary approvals from the city and the utility company.

April, 1988, Deadline

If the council approves the board recommendation, United would have another 11 months to complete the system. Company officials say they expect to finish the system by April, 1988, but welcomed the additional leeway offered by the board. The new timetable sets deadlines for completing segments of the system and imposes fines if United fails to meet them.

United officials said they are confident that they can meet the new schedule because it was worked out with the utility companies. Company officials earlier blamed the city for installation delays, saying the Department of Water and Power was slow in approving the stringing of cable on utility poles.

The cable company decided to seek a third extension after realizing it would face mounting fines for failing to meet deadlines in the existing timetable for building the system.

The $186,200 fine resulted from United's failure to meet a deadline for completing 270 miles of the system by Jan. 31. The board still must act on additional fines.

William Cullen, United president, asked the city to waive the fines. "We're building as fast as we can," he said.

"We could bring in 100,000 unemployed people . . .and could only build about 40 to 45 miles a month," he added. "Every pole has to be submitted to the utility companies for approval."

The cable company must shift wires on poles to make room for cable. The utilities want to check every pole--and there are thousands in the East Valley--before and after installation to make sure it is done properly. Otherwise, electricity or phone service could be interrupted.

United officials have argued that it is in their own interest to build the system as fast as possible. Until the system is completed, it cannot begin to recover the $10 million already invested in the $68 million project, company officials noted.

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