By Sean Savage, The Bradenton Herald, Fla. Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News

BRADENTON, Fla--Apr. 1-- Digital fiber-optic cable TV systems may appear in Bradenton sooner than you think.

While their earliest incarnations may not resemble the flashy interactive services demonstrated by Time-Warner in Orlando, they may bring improved cable service without skyrocketing cable bills.

Paragon Cable customers in Tampa Bay will be among the first in the country to receive programming through a digital fiber-optic cable system, officials from Paragon and Time-Warner Inc. said.

Time-Warner owns a portion of Paragon and will acquire the entire company pending regulatory approval.

Gene White, a vice president in charge of engineering for Paragon's Tampa Bay division, said the two companies will begin constructing a digital cable network in Manatee County in three years. White is in charge of planning and construction of Time Warner's digital cable networks in Tampa Bay, he said.

Time Warner is already using a digital fiber-optic cable system to provide its ``full service network'' to a handful of test households in Orlando. The network already provides home shopping services and movies and video games on demand, said Richard Hoffmeister, technical operations manager for Paragon's Manatee County office.

But the high-profile interactive services being demonstrated in Orlando are not ready to be rolled out for the general public. The full-service network is still being developed, changed and improved based on feedback from the test customers - the results of the Orlando project will help determine what cable services Time Warner will offer elsewhere, he said.

``A lot of this is an emerging technologies state,'' Hoffmeister said. ``The full service network is still a test.''

But even if the new interactive services aren't immediately offered in Mantee County, the digital cable network will make basic cable service more reliable, White said.

If lightning strikes a crucial power supply facility in Paragon's cable system, a large segment of Paragon's customers might temporarily lose their cable service. But the fiber optic cable system will be installed in loops instead of straight lines of cable - so even if a link in the network is cut the rest of the system will still operate, White said.

The digital fiber optic system will also reduce the potential for static and will have the potential to handle high-definition television signals, White said.

The digital cable network will have the potential to carry huge volumes of information to - and from - consumers' living rooms. Such networks may one day make it possible to record and playback movies and television shows without a VCR, to get telephone service, and to connect home computers to online services at speeds that are impossible today.

Slick new interactive services will certainly come with their price tags. But White said that, regardless of what new services are introduced through cable, consumers who limit themselves to basic cable television service won't notice any appreciable increases in their monthly bills. That's partly because the use of digital technology and fiber optics will make it easier to reliably move large volumes of information, he said.

Outside companies that use digital cable systems - such as retailers who use them to sell their products through shop-at-home services -will pay Time-Warner and other cable companies for the use of their systems, further defraying consumer costs, he said. END!A3?BR-TV

AP-NY-03-31-95 1941EST

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