louis martin
cns news & features

California North Coast--

About half the towns on the Mendocino coast have had their power and phone lines buried underground--it improves real estate values and presumably aesthetics--and more are scheduled to go underground. But it has not come without a price: about $500 to $1000 for customers to bring the lines from the street to their house. And in some cases it has meant the loss of another service: cable TV.

Franklin Street in Fort Bragg recently went underground but did not lose cable TV from its supplier, Century Cable TV. Said Mike Cline, branch manager in Fort Bragg, "The state mandates that certain areas become underground areas. . . they become 'Rule 20 Projects' and the cable company must comply with going underground."

But in a smaller area, such as the unincorporated town of Elk some 30 miles to the south, the cable company is not required to go along. With a price of $120,000 to put the cable underground, it does not make economic sense for a small company like Wander TV in Gualala to bury the line for as few as 20 customers.

So while property values will soon go up in the town of Elk, no one will be watching cable TV, and that is fine for most. For strictly TV watchers, there is the option of getting a satellite dish; and the choice is a good one, as the price of a dish has dropped dramatically in recent times.

But for others it may mean a small loss now and a big one later. That is because other services, such as high-speed Internet, will soon be offered over cable.

Pac Bell minimized the meaning of the loss. Rick Fraga, Right of Way Administrator for the company on the North Coast, claimed the company is working on new, super-fast techniques of data transmission over regular phone lines. And Cline said that cable Internet service is not likely soon in his area of the coast because his company is busy upgrading the existing lines. In the country, he said, things happen slowly.

But in the Bay Area, cable access to the Internet is likely to be offered by the beginning of the new year. Netscape Communications Corp. of Mountain View is negotiating a deal to provide its software to @home, a Palo Alto startup that will provide cable access to the Internet through cable giant Tele-communications Inc. Customers will be able to plug TV cable into the back of their computers with access rates 500 times faster than over phone lines.


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