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To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. With most of the nation now wired for reception, the cable television industry is entering a new phase, aiming for an even greater surge of growth based on better programming and more aggressive marketing.

The hope is to make cable television, in the words of one industry spokesman, as prevalent as air-conditioning in American homes.

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I think we are inextricably wedded to a multichannel environment. With cable, the nation's attention can now be scattered over 30 channels and that number could grow. Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley, said, ''The crucial question is: Does this mean we are no longer a nation of national symbols because we don't have Walter Cronkite or 'Leave It to Beaver' in common?

It depends on what the fragments provided by cable turn out to be. If they're dopey or xenophobic or mean-spirited, that's bad. If they're smarter, more egalitarian, more inspiring, that's good.

It has focused Federal scrutiny on the industry in response to consumer complaints about rate increases, service problems and what some Americans see as the proliferation of sexually explicit and other offensive programming.

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Critics in Congress have said cable's power is concentrated in too few hands, and they have charged the industry with engaging in anti-competitive practices and gouging consumers on rates. More than a dozen bills have been introduced to resume regulation of cable. Despite the unwelcome attention, cable operators are not yet alarmed.

The industry has been successful so far in making its case that its growth has been a benefit to viewers by greatly expanding their viewing options. The cable television business, which started as a technical solution to the problem of delivering television signals to remote areas of rural America, has become a staple in a majority of American homes.

Inception in Cable existed only as a delivery service for broadcast channels at its inception in , until the mid's when programming services like Ted Turner's station in Atlanta became widely available through satellite distribution.

Still, through the mid's, cable television was widely regarded as the minor league of the medium, a limited refuge for network reruns, old movies and fringe sports events. Today, however, it represents a threat to the broadcast networks' traditional dominance of the industry.

The industry has increased subscriber fees and has experienced a sharp rise in advertising revenues, a dual-income stream that the industry has exploited to great advantage over the broadcast networks.

With that financial base, cable is taking a more aggressive marketing approach to add subscribers. In sports, the coveted programming once carried exclusively by the networks, more and more of the action has switched to cable.

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Cable television now carries many games in major league baseball, the National Football League and National Hockey League. In , some events of the Olympics will be carried on cable for the first time.

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Unlike the broadcast networks, which are losing viewers and scratching for profits, cable is making substantial annual gains in subscribers, revenues, profits and national attention. Shift in Audience Attention In the television season, the share of the prime-time audience controlled by NBC, ABC and CBS fell three percentage points from the previous season, to an all-time low of 61 percent, as measured by the A.

Nielsen Company. The share of audience controlled by the basic cable channels - that is, those channels covered under the basic monthly cable fee - rose to 24 percent, from 20 percent. According to the Nielsen survey conducted in May, cable's penetration increased seven percentage points from the previous year, to a new high of Nielsen estimates the number of television households in the United States at Cable television is now in more than 50 million of those homes.

Indeed, CBS labled its report ''The Cable Fable'' - pointing out, among other things, that cable's most popular programs are in fact repeats of old network series. Entering a New Phase But now that few areas remain outside cable's reach, notably pockets in several major cities, including Washington, Chicago and New York, the industry's situation is changing.

Now the industry is moving into a whole new phase.

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Lloyd Trufelman, director of communications for the Cable Advertising Bureau, said the net growth of cable is now 10, homes a day, , homes a month. For some people it's like another utility. You move in, you turn on the gas, the electric and the cable. For the last two years, most of the revenue growth has come from increasing charges to subscribers, but industry analysts see future profits being tied more to advertising.

Trufelman said. Sharon Armbrust, a senior analyst for Kagan Associates, said: ''The business is exceptionally healthy. One testimony to the belief in the viability of the business is the new revenues from advertisers. It keeps adding to the pyramid of profits.

Local Monopolies Prevalent Most cable systems are local monopolies. They gain an exclusive franchise from a local governing body to deliver cable to homes in that area. On some occasions local groups have protested a cable system's service and sought either to have the franchise turned over to new owners or to invite a different system to compete with the original franchise holder.

But in the vast majority of cases, a cable system sells its service locally without competition. Though there are more than 9, individual cable systems in the United States, and they carry programming provided by almost different channels, the cable television industry is concentrated, at least in terms of who controls most of it.

The Denver-based company also has equity interests in at least 13 channels or programming services.

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Time Inc. This concentration in relatively few hands has prompted heightened interest in Congress about possible abuse of that power. The industry has defended itself by saying that concentration results in improved quality on television.

The financial interests of successful system operators in channels that produce programming enables them to invest system profits in superior programming, the industry argues.

It is the broadcast channels, cable executives maintain, that have upset so many Americans with the ''tabloid programs'' that many charge breach the boundaries of good taste. Basic cable programs generally do not exceed the traditional taste restrictions imposed on broadcast television.

James P.

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