BIG POTENTIAL SEEN FOR CABLE

When the average viewer thinks of cable television he thinks of ESPN, CNN, or MTV. When Tucson, Ariz., Mayor Tom Volgy thinks of cable, he sees ... less air pollution.

That's because for those with a long-term view of cable as a community resource, there are linkages that go well beyond tonight's TV Guide listings.

Mr. Volgy, formerly chairman of the National League of Cities' transportation and communications steering committee, says one example of the full applications of cable technology is two-way interactive video services. For example, if everyday shopping could be done directly over the television, he says, this would improve air quality and lighten the need for new roads.

Indeed, it may sound like a tenuous link. But the technology exists and should be managed for the public good, maintains Volgy.

``Most new franchised systems from 1980 and later were offered a whole range of telecommunications systems ... state-of-the-art, two-way- interactive services,'' Volgy says. Tucson's original cable television plans, which incorporate such ideas, he says, are the model for at least 40 other cities.

After the franchises were awarded, he says, ``They say the product is not available ..., but when it is available is determined by their willingess to create a market for it.''

Where the concept of on-line information access - game playing and shopping for example - was tried, it lost money, says John Wolfe, spokesman for the National Cable Television Association. ``We found no market demand for them, and we can't create a market unless there is a demand.''

But Volgy suggests the market can be developed with the huge profits being made in cable. He has watched the local Tucson cable company sold for increasing amounts. Four years ago, it sold for $64 million; 18 months later it sold again for $112 million; and now less than three years later, it is now about to be sold for $180 million.

``These are monopolistic profits. ... There is as much to be made in profit [with existing systems] as from improving the system; so why take risks and invest in new technology when you can make money this way?''

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