MOUNT AIRY — The town that straddles the boundary between Carroll and Frederick counties may soon become the site of dueling cable TV companies.
OnMonday, the Town Council called for a study of whether Frederick Cablevision Inc. should be invited to town to compete with Prestige Cable TV Inc.
The council ran a notice in local publications last month asking citizens for opinions of Prestige's service. The town got about 30 letters, including many that complained about the cost of Prestige service, said Mayor Gerald R. Johnson Jr.
"They (letter-writers) felt that if Prestige had some competition, maybe that would curtail that problem," the mayor said.
So, the council decided Monday to dust off the town's five-member cable TV committee, which will study the implications of having the two cable carriers operating in town.
Prestige charges $20.50 a month for its 38-channel "basic" service, saidBill Bethune, the company's general manager.
Frederick Cablevision offers "minimum-basic" service -- 22 channels for $9.95 a month -- and "extended-basic" service -- 41 channels for $15.95 -- said Jake Tamse, public relations director.
The council has had closed-meeting discussions with Frederick Cablevision officials recently about theprospect of operating in Mount Airy. The company serves 33,602 households in Frederick County, as well as Manchester.
Prestige provides cable TV to 20,400 Carroll homes, including about 900 in Mount Airy.
Unlike the rest of Carroll, Mount Airy entered into a separate agreement with Prestige shortly before the company began providing service to the county in November 1984. That agreement came about because the town is split between two counties, and likely would allow the town greater leeway in wooing Frederick Cablevision.
"We have a non-exclusive franchise," said Bethune. "If the town decides to award afranchise to Frederick Cablevision, I would think legally they can do that."
Said Johnson, "Everything we've checked so far says legally we can."
Before any decision is made, however, Johnson said thetown wants to determine whether the arrangement would run afoul of any Federal Communications Commission regulations or other legal or procedural strictures.
Sorting out those considerations will be the job of the town cable TV committee, which was last in action when thefranchise was drafted in the mid '80s.
The committee is composed of Johnson, Council President R. Delaine Hobbs, Kate and Walter Kulger, and Robert Mead.
"We want to make sure we explore all the possibilities," Johnson said, adding that public hearings will be conducted before the council acts on the matter.