Workers installed the first mile of a cable television system for the East San Fernando Valley on Thursday after a ground-breaking ceremony that took place under a cloud of uncertainty.
The work crew was that of United Cable Television of Los Angeles. The uncertainty is over when--and if--the full 1,140-mile system will be completed.
A United spokesman said the construction beneath the 15000 block of Copper Street in Mission Hills puts the company on schedule for meeting its first deadline. It faces a fine of $300 a day unless it completes the first 50 miles of cable installation by June 30.
The deadline was imposed by the City Council in December after it gave United another 10 months, until October, 1986, to complete the system.
The system was originally scheduled for completion by the end of this year. United officials have blamed the delays on a number of circumstances, most notably the difficulty in obtaining financing because of U.S. cable TV's generally disappointing financial performance.
Despite Thursday's start of construction, United attorney Scott Adler repeated the company's warning that, without a 10-year extension of its East Valley franchise, it cannot obtain financing.
Company officials say no bank will lend money because the existing franchise, which expires in 1987, does not give the company time to recover its investment. The full cost of construction will be $60 million.
"We started the underground construction today with the expectation that the 10 years will be granted," Adler said in an interview. The company is now financing construction from its own cash reserves.
Tentative OK of Extension
"United would stop funding this project if there was an indication that the city has no intention of granting a renewal," Adler said.
The franchise extension, which has received tentative approval from the city's Board of Telecommunications Commissioners with virtually no opposition, is expected to come before the council in early April.
United plans to install the first cable in Mission Hills, Pacoima and part of Sylmar. Those communities are near one of the company's two proposed transmission facilities and can be provided with cable TV service on July 1 or shortly thereafter. Copper Street was chosen at random for the ground breaking, which was attended by two East Valley city councilmen up for reelection in the spring, Howard Finn and Ernani Bernardi. Finn favors extending the franchise. Bernardi has not announced a position.
The work crew could install only a mile of cable Thursday because the utility lines, to which the TV cable is connected, are underground. Company officials expect to string 2 1/2 miles of cable a day once they move into areas where utility lines are above ground.